Volunteering is good for the heart

Last week I spent time with youth from my church as they participated in a Give Back Camp. I helped kids who just finished 3rd through 5th grade volunteer in the community during their summer break. To them, it was fun activities to fill their days while parents were at work. To those they served, it may have been the best thing that happened to them all week. The children painted, cleaned, cooked, made crafts and performed music. While they performed their first song “Jesus Loves Me” at a dementia care center, one of the residents began singing along – word for word. He continued to sing through a few more songs common in most churches. It’s moments like this that remind me why it is so important to volunteer.

My own volunteer path started when I was around 4 years old. I remember sitting on the floor of the Junior League of Memphis headquarters licking stamps for a mailing. My mom was a member, and I often accompanied her to her volunteer outings. I continued to volunteer throughout high school with my church, the children’s hospital, and my school. Once I was on my own, my volunteering slowed during college and the early years of my career. As I became more settled in my non-profit career, I realized I needed to begin volunteering again, so I did. Some of my volunteering consisted of team building with my co-workers. Other volunteering began with organizations that I had a personal connection. My volunteer commitments have changed through the years as I learned how to make them work with my schedule. I’m the type of person that has a hard time saying “No”. My colleagues know that I will help out in any way that I can, so they ask. Today, I’m more particular about when and where I volunteer, but I still will do my best to help in any situation.

As fundraisers, we spend our days working to raise funds for a cause. We tell the stories that will pull at a donor’s heartstrings. We share the statistics, results, impact, etc. of our organization’s programs. As I continued to grow in my nonprofit career, I look for organizations that have meaning to me. While there are plenty of volunteer positions available, I realized early on if I didn’t have a heart for the mission, then I did not enjoy the volunteering as much. The best volunteer jobs left me with the “this makes a difference” feeling. Whether serving on a board of directors, serving on an event committee, or training with others who are wanting to end blood cancers, all of the tools I’ve learned as a volunteer have impacted my career as well.

As a nonprofit fundraiser, I rely on volunteers to make anything I do successful. Fundraisers are constantly looking for their next volunteer chair. We build committees knowing that many voices are much better than one. We look to our friends and colleagues to help build out successful campaigns. We need to also remember to spend time within our own organization, outside of the fundraising department.

Why should a fundraiser volunteer within his/her own organization? Because it brings you back to the basics of why we do what we do. Volunteers, like fundraisers, have a heart for the organization. One of my favorite activities when I worked at Girl Scouts was to spend time with the team that took Girl Scouting into Title 1 schools through a program called Girl Scouts at School. The girls served are so excited to have this after school activity. The energy the girls have filled my heart and gave me a personal story to share when talking to donors about the program. Each year, at the beginning of the school year, I volunteered to help with the initial meetings. My last year on staff (although I didn’t know it was my last year at the time), I told the girls at that meeting I would be back to see them. For their end of semester party, I came back. I had spent one hour with these girls previously, and they remembered me! I was blown away by their excitement to see me again, although I can guarantee you I was more excited to see them. The smiles and faces that I remembered from day one were even bigger smiles at the end of the semester. I could see the impact this program made in their lives. As fundraisers, we need to get out of our department and spend time in a volunteer’s shoes within one of the organization’s programs.

As a parent, I want my child to understand the importance of giving back just as my mom taught me. Today, I spend more time volunteering than working. My son watches me “work” on projects throughout the year. He sees how much I love doing it. He wants to learn more about what I’m doing and why. When I tell him I do this as a volunteer, he is always amazed. He’s eight. When I can, I take him with me to age appropriate activities to teach him the value of giving back. He has now started to ask when he can go do certain activities again. To him, it’s a fun way to spend his time as he doesn’t quite understand the impact his actions are making on others. To me, it’s an important life lesson on the value of giving to others.

Why I love volunteers? Volunteers are the lifeline of most nonprofit organizations. Everyone from your board president down to the teenager who comes in to earn volunteer hours for school has an impact on your organization. We spend the month of April annually celebrating our volunteers during National Volunteer Month. We celebrate with luncheons, awards, ceremonies, words of thanks, and so on to recognize and honor our volunteers. What are we doing the other 11 months of the year to celebrate these important people in our organization? If your organization is not thanking volunteers on a regular basis, think of ways to make that happen. A simple, “I appreciate what you do for us” goes a long way.

The 2018 statistics from the Independent Sector regarding the value of the volunteer hour is estimated at $25.43. Now, think about your nonprofit organization. How many volunteers do you have? On average how many hours do they volunteer. Multiply that by $25.43. That is a good chunk of change. One organization I volunteer with provides more than $1.2 Million worth of time and talent annually through volunteers.

Volunteers make a difference in the lives of those they help and the organizations which they are committed. Volunteers come to organizations with various time commitments, talents, and a wide range of ages. Some volunteers are passionately opinionated, while others are not. Some volunteers you will only see once or twice, while others will stay for years. Some volunteers want to be able to come with friends and family, while others are looking for individual opportunities. There is a volunteer for every organization, and an organization perfect for everyone who wants to volunteer.

Last week, I watched a group of youth paint a heart in a homeless shelter. The heart began as a simple outline of geographic shapes with a cross in the middle. The completed heart was filled with colorful shapes surrounding the solid heart. When you volunteer, you begin as the outline – beautiful, but not truly knowing what you are missing. Through a volunteer experience, much like the heart, you begin to take on the color and story of an organization while filling your heart.

Unsure of where to start looking for volunteer opportunities? Look up your local volunteer center, think about the nonprofits that you already commit your personal dollars to annually, and ask your friends what they do to volunteer.  No matter how little time you think you have, there is always time to volunteer.

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