Nonprofit organizations of all stripes rely heavily on volunteer
efforts to get their work done. But this is not to say that the
organizations are the only ones to benefit. Volunteering one's time
can be a personally rewarding experience and can help you gain
skills while giving back to your community.
Work within nonprofit organizations can range from being a mentor
for Big Brothers and Big Sisters to planning events for the local
literacy council to being the person that rings the bell outside of
stores working for the Salvation Army. The reasons that people
choose to volunteer generally dictate the types of organizations
they volunteer with and the types of work they choose to do.
My own experience
About two years ago, I decided to volunteer my writing services on
a local entertainment Web site called Detroit Buzz. I knew the work
would offer an escape from my usual workday and other life
tribulations. Unlike some paid jobs, volunteer work can be highly
satisfying and beneficial to your state of mind--particularly if it
allows you to follow an interest you can't pursue through your
When I was invited to write for Detroit Buzz, for instance, my
natural loves of writing, listening to music, and concert-going
were fused together, and that became my motivation for writing. In
addition, it gave me the chance to write in a style I felt
comfortable with. Volunteering to write was fun and it provided a
creative outlet. And I made a contribution to a Web site I felt
benefited my community.
I realized I was working on something from the ground-up, and I had
a chance to see the Web site grow and gain popularity. The writing
became almost secondary to making connections in the local
entertainment industry and helping to build a reputation for the
Web site. The site has developed into a steady and growing
entertainment outlet for movie reviews, stories of local bands, and
concert reviews of national groups.
Sometimes, however, volunteering for a nonprofit organization can
test your will and level of frustration. A few months into my time
at Detroit Buzz, I realized that most of the people working for the
site were in the same situation I was: they had full time jobs, and
limited time to put into the Web site. In addition, the lack of
advertising for the site--and thus it's low profile--made it
disheartening for the volunteers to continue putting hours upon
hours into Web development and writing.
When volunteering for any nonprofit organization, a passion for
what one is doing usually overrides the pursuit for personal glory
or gain. The end result is a sense of benefit to the community and
the people around you. When chatting with colleagues, I asked them
what sort of personal satisfaction do they get out of volunteering
for a non-profit organization, and it was surprising how their
answers were very similar. Comments such as "I'd rather be part of
the solution, than the problem," and "I only want to volunteer
where I see a direct correlation and result of my work," were
A study done by the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment at
Indiana University-Purdue University showed that people who
volunteered in churches did so for the social aspects and as a show
of their values. Social aspects come into play because the
volunteer's work will be respected and seen by people relevant to
A colleague of mine discussed her experience volunteering for a
church. Her motivation was to live out what she was being taught in
readings at the church and to develop her own spiritual growth.
Social responsibility is a factor cited by hospital volunteers,
according to a 1996 study done by the Journal of Social
Psychology. In addition, gaining a sense of satisfaction for
the individual is another key factor.
In the museum industry, people have similar reasons for
volunteering. Museum volunteers have a strong sense of
philanthropy. They often donate both money and time. Also, museum
volunteers see direct benefit to children through their work, by
exposing children to art and culture at an early age. Lastly,
people often volunteer in a museum for the pure pleasure of seeing
and experiencing art.
Of course, you too can benefit by volunteering your time. You can
gain valuable experience as a volunteer, and many people follow the
adage that the best way to get a job in a new field is to begin by
volunteering. A colleague of mine gave me five important factors
that summarized her reasons for giving her time, and I think these
will resonate with other volunteers, as well: networking with
colleagues; learning and sharing experiences with others;
developing one's resume for future work; making important business
contacts; and learning more about a new profession.
Volunteering is certainly a worthy use of time. If you make a
commitment to volunteer, what will be your reason?
Zweigenhaft, R. L., Armstrong, J., Quintis, R. & Riddick, A.
(1996). The motivations and effectiveness of hospital volunteers.
The Journal of Social Psychology, 136(1), 25-34.
2006 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.