a salute to volunteers around the world

In honour of National Volunteer Week being celebrated April 19-25 throughout North America, I thought I’d start a discussion as to why we volunteer as I am often asked this question when interviewed about my new book, “Before You Say Yes …” a guide to the pleasures and pitfalls of volunteer boards.

Why do I volunteer? I think it is almost genetic with some of us. I grew up in a household in which volunteerism was the norm. My father volunteered for his union way back in the early 1950’s and was sent to NYC to learn from the big guys as to how a union should be run. He was also president of the church our family attended and had a key role with the Knights of Columbus. (I have no doubt he was also involved with his insurance brokers and realtors associations, but I can’t recall for certain and he has passed on.)

So when I entered adulthood and became a working woman, it seemed a natural thing for me to get involved in causes I believed in. To stand up and be counted. To make a difference.

I learned from an early age that I am a doer and usually become thoroughly engaged in any organization I join, preferring to engage in a course of action as opposed to sitting on the sidelines and complaining about the way someone else is doing things.

So I have been active on numerous boards and volunteered for a great number of organizations and associations over the past 30 years.

I have found my own situation to be similar to that of several of the uber-volunteers I interviewed for my book. They do it because they have grown up in families where volunteering is a part of life. A natural, welcome part of life.

Reg and I enjoyed playing Mr & Mrs Santa at the Matlock Hall.

Reg and I enjoyed volunteering as Mr & Mrs Santa at the Matlock Hall.


They do it because they are filled with passion for a certain topic or organization and want to help makes things better. Making the world a better place. I think that is the spirit behind volunteerism for me.

How about you? What has driven you to engage in volunteerism? (Or are you just contemplating stepping into the forum?)

Does volunteering feed your spirit? Is it an innate part of you like it is for me?

Would love to hear your thoughts, and I salute everyone who gives of themselves to all the school boards, church groups, professional associations, hobby and community groups in every city, village and hamlet around the world.   

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

18 Responses

  1. Lee says:

    Hi Doreen
    My parents were foster careers for 10 years so I grew up with the whole ethos of helping others and I think once it is ingrained you right it never goes away and sometimes whether you like it or not you always seem to get roped in somewhere or another. I just signed up to do a charity swim in the summer in aid of cancer research. Now all I have to do is the training to make sure that I can complete it.

    I salute them with you lee
    Lee recently posted…Velour Sweat Suits For WomenMy Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Absolutely, Lee. There are those of us who continue to give all our lives via fundraising, philanthropic, and volunteer efforts. It’s just in our nature.

      I salute your parents. It sounds like they set a good example for you.

      I hope you will support my fundraising campaign at http://igg.me/p/354780/x/1102796 – if only with a small donation. It all helps.

      Good luck with your charity swim. 🙂

  2. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for the comment. Your own situation proves how important volunteerism can be in strengthening our characters, and giving our lives direction and focus. I know that I would not be the person I am today were it not for the varied volunteer experiences I have had and enjoyed.

  3. Anonymous says:

    As a child I was violent and had a bad reputation. When I was 15 I was responsible for a class mate having a complete breakdown and being hospitalised. It was strange because he had attacked me and teachers made sure I could not get back at him.

    In a way it was probably one thing I could have easily dismissed any personal responsibility for. He had deliberately jumped on me towards the end of long swimming test and I had to be rescued. At first I wanted to get my hands on him, but because of how he was I soon lost interest.

    However being questioned by police on what had happened and that however I might try to justify it I was responsible for destroying another person. It made me take a good look at myself and I realised two things. First I did not like who I was, and second if I carried on I would either end up in prison or dead.

    I never had the opportunity to apologise to him or thank him. Volunteering was initially my way of making recompense to him. But it also taught me a new way of living, of putting others before myself.

    That was over 30 years ago. Today I still get a real buzz on it. The frustrations, hard work, meetings, making things happen with very few people knowing about it, an of the cuff comment, a smile, a thank you just makes everything worthwhile.

    I'm not perfect, though the odd times I think of that child I destroyed and I again look inside to who I am I see a person I am proud off, a man who loves his wife, raised a balanced and beautiful daughter and someone who cares more about others than himself.

  4. wizardofwords says:

    Don't feel guilty, Molly! We all do what we can.

    I am a total cat lover, and appreciate the efforts you have made to save many of our feline friends.

    Life is only as good as we make it, and I'm sure you're doing your part in bringing cheer to the world (based on the humor I've seen you share in your amazing blog, "Life With the Campbells" which readers can find listed as a fav of mine in the column to the left.)

  5. MOLLYC says:

    Bravo to you. I do not volunteer, but the forty cats I have saved from the highways and biways of Ohio thank me for my efforts, I hope! Taking care of my husband seems to take up an inordinate amount of my time, and laundry seems to consume the rest. Thank you for helping others, and now I feel guilty…

  6. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks so much, Sandra, and welcome to the blog!

    I really am hoping that BYSY will become a teaching tool for non-profits and volunteer orgs. If everyone on a non-profit board reads it, I believe it will alleviate a lot of problems with regard to board dynamics, poorly run meetings, failing to plan (fiscally and with respect to succession) etc.

    Thanks for helping spread the word.

  7. Sandra Phinney says:

    Doreen I hope you sell a bajillion copies of your book! I will be a big help to powers that be who run organizations (and recruit volunteers) and very insightful to anyone thinking of becoming a volunteer. Enjoyed your post on the topic and also other people's comments! Good luck.

  8. wizardofwords says:

    Good points, Christine (Peets.) We now have 4 Christines on the blog!

    Sometimes the needs of the org seem apparent and inherently matched to our own talents, abilities or passion, so we really know we can make a difference. Other times, the match may not be as strong, but we still know our efforts will be appreciated and welcome.

    We don't have to be the star or driving force in everything we do. As long as we work together and put in a sincere effort, the effects will be felt and appreciated by all.

    And yes, volunteering provides an excellent forum in which to meet new friends, neighbours and like-minded individuals. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  9. Christine Peets says:

    I'm weighing in on the last day of National Volunteer Week.
    As others have said, seeing people like you, Doreen, and how much you give of yourself is inspiring.
    My reasons for volunteering change with the organization and its needs, but I'm not so sure it's because I think I can make a difference as much as I think I can help. Also, I look at volunteering, especially in my community as a way to get to know people better, and maybe have a chance to let them know me, because one thing does lead to another. I do get more than I give, and it's always nice to be asked to help.

  10. wizardofwords says:

    Welcome, Sigrid and Christine, to the blog, and for your thoughtful comments.

    Interesting how you both (as mature, accomplished women now enjoying some of the fruits of your labour) are trying to be a bit more selective in choosing volunteer activities to engage in.

    I talk about that specific issue in the book. That is is important to spend our time and efforts volunteering for causes and organizations that we are adamantly passionate about. If we are not selective, we can become resentful that we are spending our precious time doing something that is not a high priority on our own personal list of things that really matter.

  11. ycs says:

    I did a seminar years ago about all this and our need for love, acceptance, approval…. I've mastered the ‘No!’ part but still find the hardest pat is the feeling that this needs to be justified by a valid and acceptable (to the person asking) reason! we all need someone to tell us how it's done without feeling guilty or that we've hurt or let someone down by just wanting to live our own lives and choose how we do that.

    christine

  12. Sigrid Macdonald says:

    Doreen, thanks for the fascinating post. Interesting that you had a familial background of volunteerism. I didn't but I always volunteered, starting from an early age. In those days, I didn't consider it to be volunteer work. I was just a 60s kid, doing my thing politically at the Women's Center or an antiwar protest.

    Later that morphed into working for various political candidates and private groups. I became interested in wrongful convictions and have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours working on that for the last two decades.

    My motives are similar to yours. I'm always indignant and outraged when I see something that's wrong. My first reaction is to say, "Tthat's not fair! That's not right. It should be different. I'm going to work to make it so." And I meet some really cool people doing so.

    The downside is that it sucks up a lot of time. And now that I'm older, I'd rather spend much of that time doing paid work! But I still work from time to time on prison issues. It makes me feel good to give something back to the community that gives so much to me. Sigrid

  13. wizardofwords says:

    Welcome to the blog, Pablo.

    You've touched on a very important point. Sometimes we don't have time or money we can donate. But we can give our talent by way of contributing our products or services to help support a cause. Working together, we all make a difference.

  14. pabloconrad says:

    I volunteer because I believe as part of the community, it's important to give to those you care about.

    Most of my volunteer work is usually donating my time and talent. This gives them better images for the brochures, press releases, and website. I also like helping with website and publication design. Better images help them get their message out better and therefore help them raise more monies.

    As part of this, I also donate prints for silent auctions to help them raise funds. With the charity Tom's Door in Basalt, Colo., I donated image files so they can make postcards and raise money for their services.

    It's one of the responsibilites of being a part of your community, and one I gladly participate in.

  15. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks so much for the wonderful comments, gals. Having sat on boards with both of you, I can attest to the fact that you, too, are wonderful volunteers.

    And one of the biggest benefits of volunteering is bringing us together with like-minded people (or as Kathe likes to say … members of the "tribe") which inevitably evolves into life-lasting and life-changing friendships.

  16. Kathe Lieber says:

    Volunteering is second nature for me too, Doreen. I don't recall my parents ever saying directly, "Volunteering is a good thing to do," but there must have been a subliminal message that we're all meant to contribute in some way to making the world a better place.

    And of course, volunteers get so much back as well! It's been through my volunteer work with PWAC that I've met some really important people in my life, including you, Doreen!

  17. Suzanne Boles says:

    I can attest to how great you are in your role as a volunteer, Doreen. Whatever role you take on your give 110 percent. At the risk of being cliche, I do believe that "we get back far more than we receive," but those who are life-long volunteers aren't looking for accolades. Like you, they want to make the world a better place. You have touched many lives with your volunteering and are leaving behind a true legacy. And that's what volunteering is all about.

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