Although it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere I go, it's still November . . . and I'm still thinking about gratitude and giving thanks. The other day, I wrote a post about giving -- focused on being a philanthropist and making financial gifts to charities. But there's another side of philanthropy: volunteering -- or what many people refer to as "giving back."
We can practice gratitude by volunteering our time and talent . . . offering vital help to people in need, making our communities better places to live, and supporting causes we care about. When we volunteer, it's pretty obvious that we're helping others -- but volunteering also benefits YOU: the volunteer.
- Volunteering provides a connection to others and to the community, and helps make a difference in the lives of others.
- Volunteering brings a sense of well-being. Like all the gratitude practices, volunteering makes you feel happier by countering stress, increasing self-confidence, and bringing a sense of purpose.
- Volunteering encourages new learning and skill-building.
- Volunteering brings a sense of personal fulfillment and purpose.
When it comes to volunteering, I think the real trick . . . is finding the RIGHT volunteer experience. Not everyone volunteers for the same reasons. In fact, there has been quite a bit of research to figure out just what motivates a person to step out and volunteer. Researchers have discovered five primary motivations for volunteering:
Values. Volunteering to satisfy personal values or humanitarian concerns.
Community concern. Volunteering to help a particular community, such as a neighborhood or ethnic group, to which the you feel attached.
Esteem enhancement. Volunteering to feel better about yourself or escape other pressures.
Understanding. Volunteering to gain a better understanding of other people, cultures or places.
Personal development. Volunteering to challenge yourself, meet new people and make new friends, or to further your career.
It turns out that your motives for volunteering don't really matter all that much, in the end. What's most important about volunteering . . . is that there is a good match between WHY you feel like volunteering and WHAT you're doing as a volunteer. The better the match, the more likely you are to enjoy and benefit from your volunteer experience -- and the more likely you are to keep doing it!
I've done a lot of volunteering in my life -- from belonging to service organizations in college to school-related activities with my kids to weeding with the Master Gardener program and serving on community boards.
None of them, though, really hit my "buttons" for volunteering. I was doing these things because I felt I should. I never really figured there could be more. I actually thought maybe I was just a selfish person . . . who didn't really like to volunteer, but it turns out the things I was doing just didn't line up well with my personal motivations for volunteering!
I discovered this earlier this year, when I became a tutor for the Kalamazoo Literacy Council.
You may remember that right after the election last year, I decided to find out more about refugee programs in my community. I was specifically interested in ESL programs for refugees, and I was immediately welcomed into a growing group of nonprofit organizations, service agencies, and individuals hoping to make a difference for newly-arrived refugees in the Kalamazoo area. But . . . there were plenty of ESL tutors already . . . and what this group desperately needed at that time was child care for refugee children while their parents took English classes. I knew right away that that was NOT for me.
I was disappointed . . . but decided to run with my interest in literacy.
I found an adult literacy tutor certification program through the KLC, and completed the training - hoping to be matched with an adult "learner" (as we refer to our students) looking to learn to read. In February, I was paired with a student -- a man about my age -- who is really motivated and working hard to improve his reading and writing skills. We meet each week to read and write and spell and laugh together over phonics rules.
For the first time in my life, I have found a volunteer activity that must be a perfect match with my personal motivations for volunteering! I look forward to working with my learner each week; I celebrate his progress; I am totally in his corner! I feel like I'm making a difference -- and my volunteering has purpose . . . in a way weeding or chaperoning field trips or serving as Choir Boosters Treasurer never did (for me).
If you have never really found a volunteer activity that makes you feel GOOD about what you're doing, maybe you just haven't found the right volunteer activity for YOU. Take some time to evaluate your own goals, interests, and motivations - because it's different for everyone.
And . . . follow your heart!
Attention KNITTERS and seekers-of-peace! It's time to sign up for this year's Peace Project. You can read all about it here. I've already purchased my pattern, and I have some yarn picked out. Although I don't plan to complete the project during the month of December, I will be following along with the Peace Prompts each day. Because we can all use a little peace in our lives!