Volunteerism Saved my Life
When I began my consulting career, I was 22 and eager to conquer the business world - but I had underestimated my preparation and confidence. Office politics and my idealism clashed loudly. I spent the first two years of my career slaving for success. I spent countless nights at work, only to go home, shower, and return. Though I lived in one of the United States' most exciting and historic cities, I had no friends. I was clearly headed for burn out, and fast.
One of our company's requirements for advancement dictated that we serve our communities with the purpose of advertising our company's name and generosity. In search of advancement, I chose the Boston Museum of Science. It was fun and educational and a good place to meet lots of friendly people. I felt like I was living out a PBS program.
Community involvement, while always important to me, took on a more necessary significance - I found balance, out of which sprung new happiness. I know volunteering saved my life. I might otherwise have suffered a breakdown of some sort.
My involvement with the Samaritans, an international suicide prevention hotline, illustrates my point best. Many people reach out to the Samaritans when at their most desperate. While my voice helped them get through difficult times, their voices helped me to discover myself. Being part of the Samaritans demystified life for me. I approached life differently - not just with the gratitude we often find when brought nearer to death, but also with a new inquisitiveness. Their despair transformed my life into beauty and serenity.
I found the Samaritans through one of my managers, who sat on the Board. He started out with them as a volunteer too. He saw me unraveling. My work started to show signs of sloppiness. My enthusiasm started to wane. He knew what I was experiencing, because he had experienced it too. He reached out to the Samaritans, and they reached out to him. He wanted to save me the way he was saved. I am forever grateful to him. I consider him my greatest benefactor.
Years later, volunteerism still represents a large part of my life. Many people think volunteering means donating time to a cause or association dedicated to improving a particular social sector. My definition of volunteerism spans a broader spectrum. For me, volunteering means offering my time, attention, and/or finances to organizations that interact with people I would not otherwise know and that enrich and propel my life's goals.
Selecting where you want to offer yourself can be an overwhelming process. There are thousands of organizations that want and need your time and attention. I recommend doing an inventory of what is important to you and using this inventory as a criteria checklist. My checklist includes any combination of whether the organization:
- supports creation and maintenance of self-sufficiency programs
- allows for opportunities to practice skills important to my r?sum?
- represents women and/or children as a large demographic of the organization's outreach
- promotes health and health education
- facilitates development of many new relationships - personal and/or professional
- motivates me and inspires me to be a better person
Many of my present and past organizations represented more than just the social causes often associated with volunteerism. Mine included both nonprofit and for profit organizations and represented the arts, the Internet, and socializing:
- Academy of Finance - mentors inner city high school juniors and seniors
- Boston Museum of Science - makes visiting an interactive experience (www.mos.org)
- Boston Symphony Orchestra - world's largest orchestral organization (www.bso.org)
- Business Volunteers for the Arts - donates consulting services to non-profit cultural organizations
- CARE - provides international relief and development (www.care.org)
- Cybergrrl - enhances women's Internet experiences (www.cybergrrl.com, www.femina.com, www.webgrrls.com)
- Earthnet Technology Group - incubates web sites (www.earthnettechnology.com)
- Financial Services Volunteer Corps - matches professionals with needs in overseas financial services sectors (fsvc.org)
- Financial Women's Association, networks women in the financial services industry (www.fwa.org)
- Foreign Policy Association - advocates education of US foreign policies (www.fpa.org)
- Habitat for Humanity, helps lower income families build houses at zero interest mortgage rates (www.habitat.org)
- Henry George Institute - teaches principles of Georgian economics (www.henrygeorge.org)
- The Hunger Site - donates food to the famished (www.thehungersite.com)
- Jeff Galloway Productions - trains groups to run marathons (www.runinjuryfree.com)
- Junior Achievement - encourages students to pursue success through education (www.ja.org)
- Love Creek Productions - an off-off Broadway theater
- Mount Holyoke College - my alma mater (www.mtholyoke.edu)
- National Association for Female Executives - networks professional women (www.nafe.com)
- Samaritans - offers suicide prevention (www.samaritans.org)
- Women's Venture Fund - helps women launch proprietorships
- World Affairs Council - networks people interested in international events
While I would advocate volunteerism for everyone, I know not everyone is suited for it. Please consider the following when deciding to include volunteerism in your current life. Volunteerism:
If you're trying to decide whether to volunteer, ask yourself:
- If you did not have to make money, how would you spend your time, ideally?
- What are your life dreams?
- What population or demographic do you know about or understand the least?
- What motivates and/or inspires you?
- What are your talents? (Be specific.)
- What do you enjoy most or are most proud of in your life?
- Whom do you admire most, and why?
- What is important to you?
- What reasons do you have not to volunteer?
- What do you fear?
- A directory of nonprofit and volunteering resources on the Web, with information provided by 16,000 organizations in 130 countries
- Helps people get involved in their community
- Offers a comprehensive and up to date database of volunteer opportunities.
- A national system of volunteers, contributors, and local charities
- National membership organization supporting nearly 1,400 independent local branches with services and training.
- Matches talented, motivated people with service opportunities.
- Nonprofit FAQ for nonprofit leaders
- Locates organizations for you.
- A one-stop directory of Internet resources of interest and value to nonprofit organizations