Athena Lives Here: Giving Back Through Volunteering

Shared with permission from the author, originally published online by BPW Saskatoon.

Did you know that in 2013, nearly half (44%) of Canadians volunteered? The total number of hours given was almost 2 billion! I can’t even begin to put a dollar figure on how much that was worth to the many causes and organizations that benefited from those hours. Saskatchewan continues to lead the country with a volunteer rate of 56%.

In light of these staggering numbers and in honour of National Volunteer Week, I sat down with Shelagh Trapp from READ Saskatoon to talk about the things people should think about when considering volunteering. Here are our top 10 considerations for volunteers…

1. Know why you want to volunteer
Are you looking to volunteer in order to learn or develop a skill? Build up your resume? Meet new people? Help a worthy cause? Get a potential ‘in’ with an employer? Because you feel like you should be doing something good for the world? Test drive a potential career? Support a particular cause? Be honest with yourself about what your goals are.

2. Take the time to find an organization that is a good fit for you
This is the fun part. Choose an organization or cause whose mission and values match yours. There are so many worthy clubs, causes, organizations, and events in and around Saskatoon, from READ Saskatoon to the Western Development to your very own Business and Professional Women of Saskatoon, that choosing should be tough!

3. Manage your expectations
While you are choosing where to give your time, make sure you look into what your chosen cause needs volunteers to do. Potential volunteer tasks run the gamut from Board and committee work to ticket takers to face painters and beyond. What are you willing and able to do? Revisit your goals. For example, if your goal is to develop new skills you may not be interested in folding fundraising letters, but if your goal is to support a specific cause, knowing that you are helping bring in needed donations may make it feel worthwhile. If you don’t know what kind of volunteers are needed, ask.

4. Be realistic about your availability
Shelagh’s tip is to choose an organization whose pace matches yours. Do you want to volunteer for short periods, but on a regular basis? Sporadically, but for whole days at a time? Some volunteer opportunities, like sitting on a Board or one-on-one tutoring may require you to commit to a specific term, but volunteering doesn’t have to mean being ‘locked in’. Many organizations have casual or one-time opportunities. Ask up front what is required.

5. Be aware that your volunteer ‘job’ might not start right away
Even once you’ve picked an organization, it may take time before you are actually ‘on the ground’. Meeting and chatting with a volunteer coordinator, filling out paperwork such as a criminal record check, working with your volunteer coordinator to match you with the right task, and attending orientations and training can take a while. Also, volunteer needs often change throughout the year. Groups may need many volunteers around the dates of big events or for certain projects, but not as many during slower periods.

6. Manage your expectations of yourself
Don’t worry if you are nervous or unsure of what to do or expect, especially if your volunteer task is something you aren’t familiar with. Ask questions. Ask for help. No one expects you to be a rock star at everything right away and neither should you. As Shelagh commented, “we’re already impressed that you’re giving your time.”

7. Volunteering should be a good experience for you, too
Organizations and volunteer coordinators want to make sure you are happy with your volunteering experience. If you aren’t, or if something isn’t working out quite the way you thought it would, we want to hear about it so that we can try to make it better. It’s also OK to quit. We understand changing circumstances, the desire to try something different, or even wanting to have a bit more time to yourself.

8. You don’t have to volunteer right now
One theme I took away from BPW Saskatoon’s April WEPS panel is that life is long – don’t worry about doing everything right now. We all know that for business and professional women, time is a premium. If you find yourself inwardly grimacing at the thought of another demand on your time, it’s OK to say no to volunteering. There may be another time in your life when your career stage, lifestyle, or some other circumstance makes volunteering a better choice for you.

9. Giving back doesn’t have to be about formal volunteering
Shoveling a neighbour’s sidewalk, caring for family members or friends, or mentoring someone within your workplace all count as ways you contribute to your community. As Shelagh pointed out, the example you are setting as a professional woman in the community is in itself a form of giving back – it serves as inspiration to others. Don’t sell yourself short by not recognizing what you are doing just because there isn’t a spot on your LinkedIn profile for it.

10. Volunteering has powerful rewards
Knowing you’ve made a difference, either directly or indirectly, is a powerful feeling. “Volunteers often say to me ‘I knew I’d be giving, but I didn’t realize what I’d be getting back’” says Shelagh.

Credit: READ Saskatoon