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Volunteering is a good way of getting experience

Many of the largest organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, depend on their volunteers to get things done and keep their institutions rolling along.

Internships, a word which has been maligned recently thanks to the Washington merry-go-round, is an excellent way for a novice to learn about an organizations workings, particularly if it’s in a field they plan to enter as a profession.

Without volunteers, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, food banks, homeless shelters, film restoration centers, hospitals and many other groups could not exist or would have to operate within very limited service capabilities. It is the volunteer, contributing time and sometimes personal resources, that keeps all such establishments open for business.

Who is a volunteer? You are. Sometimes we don’t realize we’re volunteering, such as when we open a door for someone with an armful of packages – you’ve just volunteered to be a good samaritan without thought of compensation. Or, you may deliberately seek out a service organization and join them to volunteer on a regular basis.

What do volunteers do? Everything from A to Z. From the president of the Lions Clubs International, the worlds largest service organization, to the retired hotel manager who spends online a few hours every week preparing  students for the GED test, you will meet them everywhere. We do many, many things in service to humanity. Perhaps one of the best known volunteers was Nobel Prize winner Sister Theresa. She chose her way of life in order to serve.

I’m not a bible pounder nor do I belong to an organized religious group but there are many ways to keep the faith. The good book charges us “…. through love serve, one another.” (Gal. 5:13). We’ve been taught since childhood that it’s better to give than to receive; maybe it’s because the rewards far outweigh the “costs”.

WHAT DO VOLUNTEERS GET FOR THEIR SERVICES?

A few years back I joined a local chapter of a Lions Club in Oregon because I thought it would be a good place to make business contacts. I was wrong. It’s a good place to meet people who are willing to give of themselves on a regular basis in order to improve their community and enhance the quality of life for friends, neighbors and strangers.

One of my first responsibilities was to handle the case of a child whose mother called to inform us that the child had difficulty reading the blackboard and didn’t care to read school assignments at home. The school nurse thought the child may need glasses. Because she was a single mother barely able to provide for her family she was told she could call our club and we might be able to help.

After a preliminary review by the club the child was sent to a cooperating eye doctor who diagnosed her and prescribed glasses; our club paid for everything. A few months later I chanced to meet the mom at the supermarket and inquired about the child. I was informed the child’s grades went from C’s to A’s in one semester because she could see everything now and had an incentive to read. I can’t describe how I felt at that exact moment except that a warm, fuzzy feeling came all over me. I felt ten feet tall and proud to be a Lion volunteer.

To answer the question, what do volunteers get: We get warm fuzzies all over the place. Only another volunteer can know what that feels like and that’s why we do it. Financial gain is not part of a volunteers lexicon

BUILDING A BETTER COMMUNITY

If you live in a large city you’ve no doubt experienced the occasional traffic light outage at an intersection. And everyone once in a while you’ll see someone other than a peace officer at the intersection risking his or her life directing traffic.

Why, do you ask? Because that person acknowledges the responsibility it takes to build and maintain a community. Instead of letting someone else do it, they’ve taken a step forward to improve the quality of life they want others to enjoy, even if only for a few minutes. That volunteer accepts the challenge to be a contributing member of an extended family.

During any of the many floods certain regions of our country are prone to experience, we always see lines of people filling and stacking sandbags to shore up dikes and levies. We also see strangers helping another stranger sandbag a house or a business; a man in a powered boat risks his life to rescue a dog or cat from a roof top Who are these strangers?

They are volunteers who see the need to contribute to their community. While out there helping others these volunteers are often served by another group of volunteers, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Lions Clubs, Kiwanians, Rotarians, and the many other organized volunteer groups, all part of a large group of people dedicated to helping others.

City Halls and city councils may run and manage our cities and towns but it is the volunteers who organize the bake sales, clean graffiti, help little old ladies cross streets and put on the school play that make it a community.

Pssst, hey buddy, wanna get a warm fuzzy feeling all over? Be a volunteer!

RECRUITING VOLUNTEERS

Ok, you’ve got a need to organize an event and can’t afford to pay anyone to staff it. Or, your non-profit group has to grow in order to provide more free services (more hands, more projects to accomplish). Where/how do you find fresh faces with fresh ideas to accomplish your goals?

Volunteers are waiting to be asked to volunteer almost everywhere you look. All you need to do is ask.

Many folks are shy or conservative and don’t want to appear brash or pushy so they don’t often jump up and down waiving an “I’m a professional volunteer” sign to get your attention. They’re usually sitting next to you in church, at a lunch counter, on a bus (or queuing up). You might meet a stranger at a seminar, walk into a shop to buy something, wait at a barber shop for a chair.

Wherever you may be, listen to the thread of conversations, wait to make a contribution, listen some more and then ask the question you’ve been waiting to ask, “Have any of you heard of . . .?”, or, “Did you know that . . .?” Now wait for the responses.

There will be someone who asks the kind of questions you want to hear that indicates an interest in your volunteer group. Don’t ignore the rest of the group, but circle in on this one person and make sure they know who you are and that you’d like to talk to them again sometime soon. Unless you’re a professional recruiter or closer, it’s almost impossible to convince a stranger to join your cause on your first meeting.

It might take several conversations before the prospective volunteer will decide to check you out. In other words, patience and understanding will eventually help you find a quality volunteer you’ll be proud to work with.

So you’re not into lunch counters, bus stops and group meetings. Where else do you go to find a volunteer? Once again listen, and, look. Look for signs that someone is a natural volunteer. Look for people that are volunteering already. I don’t mean you should proselytize. But if you see a person doing something that makes them a contributing member to their community, ask if he or she is part of an organized group.

If not, make a quick pitch for your cause and listen. Some people are just waiting to be asked what they’re doing and why and will often reveal their affiliations or their desire to join something.

If you’re looking for “professional volunteers” at the executive level, look no further than your own company. I know one bank executive whose company pays his dues to stay involved in one service group and he makes a significant contribution in time and energy to improve his community.

If it’s your job to find a new volunteer that has the leadership capabilities to eventually ascend to high office within your volunteer group, there are many executives on the golf course who could spare a few hours a month to further your causes. Incidentally, if you’ve never seen a high-powered executive get a warm and fuzzy feeling in public, it’s one of those Kodak moments they’ll never forget.

If you’ve been keeping a personal contact manager I’m sure there’s at least one contact in your databank that will listen and become a volunteer if given an opportunity and exposed to your offer.

Walk into any small shop and ask the owner if he supports your program. Listen. Ask them to contribute or participate towards your next function or fund-raising event. After the event, present them with a thank you plaque and an invitation to become an honorary member of your club; it won’t be long before they’re actively involved and asking fellow merchants for their help. Volunteerism is contagious.

Place a conservative advertisement in your local paper asking people to come forward for more information about your group and your services. You’ll be amazed at what the general public doesn’t know about you. Even in a small community with an active Lions Club I was continually surprised when strangers asked me, “what do Lions do?” Do you know what Rotarians or the Knights of Columbus do?

Recruiting a good volunteer is not an overnight project. It takes time but the final result is that you’ll be building a better, stronger organization capable of doing the things your charter says your capable of doing.

Volunteers are special people looking for special occasions to serve special people.

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