Like a lot of women, I’ve done my fair share of volunteering over the years. I’ve been on several boards of directors and have written pro bono grants, articles, and press releases. I’ve liked more Facebook business pages than I can remember, and I handed out pizza during an All Veterans Stand Down. For two years, I was the volunteer, full-time executive director of a public access television station. What was I thinking?
Sometimes, volunteering feels great. There’s nothing better than giving time and energy to a cause you feel good about, especially when your efforts are appreciated. It’s a win-win situation—one that benefits the organization and keeps you coming back.
Then there are the times when you support a cause and want to help, but the organization is so dysfunctional and unorganized that your generosity goes unrecognized. Or you show up ready to jump in, only to be told that they don’t need any more help that day. Sometimes, the volunteer job starts off great, and then the energy shifts and it’s just not fun anymore.Situations like these are disheartening to say the least—and frustrating, to boot.
After my last volunteer efforts left me feeling drained and exhausted, I decided it was time to take a break. I promised myself I would not volunteer for anything until I figured out how to consistently create a situation that benefited both the organization (or individual) and myself. The time spent also had to enjoyable.
As a result, I came up with a four-step solution that so far has been working for me.
- Take time to consider the organization or situation before agreeing to help. Give myself permission to say no without giving a reason. “Sorry, I can’t help with that right now” is always enough.
- Make sure my skills and knowledge are a match for the job and that my primary contact appreciates what I offer by smiling and saying thank you. Avoid any situation where I might get injured or that requires too much responsibility.
- Clarify for myself and others what I need from them. Often, I become so wrapped up in helping and proving myself that I forget I have needs, too.
- Keep a log of my time and volunteer activities. Make sure I’m not giving too much.
Like me, many women give too much, and some organizations and individuals take advantage of that fact. When this happens, rather than becoming angry, disgruntled, or upset, it makes more sense to take responsibility for the situation.
What I’ve finally realized is that volunteering is great if it’s something I feel good about doing and my efforts are recognized—at least much of the time.