Why Volunteer ? What’s in it for you? —Quick tips on how Not to Volunteer.

The first question in the title is something of an interesting thing to discuss about. While the second is a not so interesting thing but which keeps coming up in the context of volunteering — and I have been asked it many number of times, more than the why part.

Some may think both are inter linked but I beg to differ.

So let me start with tackling the second question.

There may or may not be any personal benefits involved with volunteering. If you gained anything — and anything here is in terms of non tangible gains such as particular skill sets, network etc — well and good. If you didn’t, yet again well and good.

Why is that ?

Because the moment you start asking this question of “What’s in it”, either to yourself or to somebody else with the intention of analysing personal benefit alone, you’ve already lost the essence of volunteering or you’ve already closed your mind to understand the essence.

A true volunteer works selflessly, to support and achieve the common goal or the tasks assigned to him/her.

Then the question comes to Why Volunteer ? I have volunteered with Non profit organizations, NGOs, conference organizers and social activists. One recurring thing I find myself amongst these are —

Either I’m purely passionate about what the group is doing or trying to achieve.
Or I’m an admirer, fan boy and inspired by the people who are running the event, their work and dreams.

I can confidently say these are the two things that gave me the motivation to volunteer with them. In some cases when both these factors exist, I’ve been super charged to volunteer, regardless of how much it costs me physically or how much sacrifices I had to make in order spend my time.

That said, the story isn’t happy always. A true volunteer mindset & motivation is a very volatile element, because in most cases, s/he doesn’t work for any monetary benefit (in many cases, you actually end up loosing from your pocket) and hence the only motivation that can drive him/her are factors such as above or seeing the task / event complete successfully or a simple pat in the back and a little appreciation, the lack of which could result in the volunteer asking himself/herself “Why am I doing this ?”.

So why this post all out of random ? Well for two reasons —

a) I skipped family get together and paused personal projects to volunteer with an organization, did my best to optimize the task assigned to me, anything and everything under my control and ability — But for reasons which were not under my direct influence, I was frowned upon and ignored by people whom I admired and respected a lot. That hurt badly and made me think more about what could have caused it.
b) I thought I should summarize and share the key takeaways from this experience so that, any other true selfless volunteer out there doesn’t get into this situation.

So what’s the summary or takeaway ?

- Set the expectation correctly with all stakeholders.

  • Especially if you can foresee there are things that could come up over which you have no influence. This could be a tech glitch of which you have no idea or this could be people abandoning their task at the last moment. Differentiate and announce correctly what you’ll be able to achieve and what you cannot.

- Its good to take responsibility and be an accountable person. But…

  • When it comes to owning up a task which involves more than one person, its best to take up responsibility for both the person but be directly accountable for things that are in directly under your control/influence.

Last take away (& the important one) —

- Beware of Self serving bias

  • You must already be aware of something called Imposter Syndrome. Self-serving bias is even worse than that. You’re in a self delusional situation where you don’t possess the skill sets yet you somehow cover up by perceiving yourselves in a favourable manner, as opposed to imposter syndrome where you can get stuff done but you feel you’re entitled to your accomplishments.
  • Volunteers often tend to get into this situation by taking up tasks beyond their skillsets, unable to say No when somebody assigns you tasks which you very well know is beyond your skillsets. Watch out for it next time.
I still am in total respect and passionate about what the organization does. Hopefully I can set the expectations right and volunteer more productively.

Let me know in comments if you’ve been in similar situation while volunteering and how you tackled them. Would be great to hear about it.

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