Volunteering your time without overcommitting yourself

It’s no secret that I see the value of meaningful contribution and since I was a teenager I have committed time to various not for profit causes. It’s not always plain sailing though and throughout this time I have seen many people feel overwhelmed by the commitment they have made.

Volunteering is a great way to make a meaningful difference especially if you feel like donating money is beyond your abilities or you could contribute more with your time instead.

When people first sign up to contribute to a charity or not for profit generally all they consider is if it is a worthy cause and whether they can stretch themselves to take on the extra work. The other thing they usually all have in common is that they are busy people.

Benjamin Franklin famously said “If you want something done, give it to a busy person” and this was never so true as in the volunteering arena.

So you end up with busy people with idealistic expectations taking on roles that are often not very well defined with only the support of other volunteers. Are you starting to see why many not for profits struggle to find and keep willing participants?

What’s the answer then? I am certainly not advocating giving up and just living your life for yourself and never making a contribution. It’s vital for our community that we join together to make a difference for worthwhile causes.

There are a few questions you can ask yourself when you are thinking about donating your time:

  1. Is the cause close to your heart? Rather than seeing an opportunity and putting your hand up it can be wiser to think about where you would like to make a difference. You can then shop around and find an organisation that really resonates with you. It’s a bit like going to the grocery store without a list. If you already have in your mind exactly what you are looking for you will make a much better decision.
  2. Does the time commitment work for your lifestyle? Think about how much time you have to spare….and then half it! We always have less time than we think we do and things always take longer than we expect. You can always offer to provide more help but having to reduce what you do is far harder.
  3. Do the other volunteers share your vision and priorities? Remember that these are people you are going to be potentially working closely with. Often there are no “supervisors” or additional support for communication or interpersonal issues. So make sure it’s a team that you want to be a part of and will be comfortable working with.
  4. Are your skills and experience consistent with the role? Not for profits already have a lot of work on their plate so make sure that you are suitably qualified for the role that you are considering.
  5. Do you need to set limitations? Think about whether the role you are considering has a fixed set of tasks and time commitment. Some roles are more generalised and you will need to consider whether this will work for you or whether you need to set clear limitations in the beginning. Also think about the lead time you will need to complete the tasks required and whether there are other boundaries that you need to make clear at the onset and will that work for the organisation.

These questions will allow you to analyse whether a role will work for you and your lifestyle but what if you are already volunteering and it’s not working for you? You can still ask yourself these questions and if you decide the role no longer serves you it may be time to move on.

It can be a difficult decision to make but it’s better to make a clean break than to gradually get more and more bitter about the organisation and the role.

If you can it can be helpful to wean down the support you provide and slowly reduce the time you commit. But there are times when you just need to step way immediately. If you find yourself in this situation try to concentrate on everything you have managed to do in your time with them and remove the guilt from your decision. Someone else can and will step into your role and there are plenty of other volunteer roles that may be more suitable for you.

I wish you luck in your volunteering journey, it’s so valuable for our community to have people willing to assist those less fortunate than ourselves, as long as we are mindful of our own needs as well.

Grace Mugabe Financially Empowered

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