The Trouble with Volunteering

Volunteering is admirable. Close to godliness.

For moms, volunteering earns you a higher level of sainthood. We present a ready-made workforce to power non-profits. What else have we got to do in all our spare time?

chick on the shelf

I’ve heard volunteering is fulfilling. Like having a baby who sleeps through the night before five months, which I’ve also heard is nice.

The trouble with volunteering is you often get slapped with all the grief and politics of an employee, only you don’t get paid for it.

I thought non-profits were intrinsically kind, especially to coveted volunteers. Double helpings of nice for moms logging countless hours for the cause.

Not so. Religious, secular, doesn’t matter. I’ve labored in both types. And both can be as bad as any corporate environment going.

I know, I know. Not all non-profits are like that. Not all my volunteering experiences have been like that. Most have been positive. Even in those that were less than positive, I was surrounded by many generous and kind people.

However, women wiser than I am bear witness.

It’s like this everywhere, they say in hushed voices. Volunteering can be cut throat. And women are the worst.

The trick, one wise woman told me, is to work in helper roles rather than leadership. Helpers would give their right arm for you. They want everyone to be happy. Salt of the earth.

Come to think of it, the most fulfilling, least contentious volunteer experiences for me have been as a helper. My work was valued, but contained.

I didn’t break any unspoken rules. Didn’t threaten anyone’s hidden agenda. Absolutely didn’t present any new ideas, the kiss of death for a volunteer. Simply did my job, helped my people, smiled a lot, and never took work home.

Problem is I have been known to have a good idea or two or twelve.

I can be enthusiastic, energetic, organized, creative. A bit high strung at times, but willing to work hard. And for free.

How sad the causes that captured my heart didn’t want that. They ordered Chocolate Fudge Brownie, but wanted status quo vanilla.

Such tours of duty have forever marred my pristine mommy-volunteer career. Sigh. Ain’t nobody ever gonna ask me to the dance again.

From now on, I am an at-will employee. They can fire me. I can leave. But I will earn something besides imaginary halos for my time and trouble.

You know how this ends.

No sooner do I make that vow than I do get asked again and the desire to contribute meaningfully rears its pious and persistent head.

Maybe that’s the real trouble with volunteering. Like Chocolate Fudge Brownie, online shopping and staying up past a reasonable bedtime, I want to do it even though I know it’s probably not good for me.

Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 The Message

The unforgettable Natalie Cole tells it like it is in I Can’t Say No.

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6 Responses to The Trouble with Volunteering

  1. Oohhh…that was good. I especially loved the Scripture that went with it. You reminded me to get off my boo-tay and go have a QT. And to ask the Lord to direct me on how He wants me to give these days. :D I’ve noticed for me that when I ask Him first and tell Him what my heart longs for, He works it all out. Thanks for the seeds of wisdom ma chere…

    • I love that Scripture too and that translation telling me to take time to think it over BEFORE I say yes! Easier said than done as my pride usually gets in the way. Thank you for the reminder to ask God for direction.

  2. Awesome and creative as usual Aimee. I too have embarked on a volunteer gig or twenty but the men seem less cut throat. I do notice, however, that new ideas can be dangerous regardless of gender. Hey, at least you are out there and doing. That is the most important thing. I need to do more of it myself. Great post!

    • Rodney, at the risk of sounding sexist, men seem to deal with this (and all conflict) much better than women. Men can disagree vehemently, duke it out, then go have a beer together. Women take it underground, behind each others’ backs, and make a grudgeful campaign of it. We do a lot of damage that way. And I wasn’t kidding about the new ideas. Kiss of death, I tell you, kiss of death. Thanks for reading and not being afraid to speak for the men-folk, my Viking Warrior friend!

  3. Rebecca Gill

    Truer words have never been spoken! Learned this lesson the hard way… also now realize why I chose a career working with mostly men!