In this busy and stressful era it is all too easy to hunker down and pay attention to nothing but our daily tasks. It is a choice many of us make all too often. We work and work and work without a change of pace. We need activities that make us feel good, that allow us to meet other people and if we are employers or managers, to give our employees a sense of pride in us, our company and themselves.
We join associations, some of which have paid professional staff and so we participate as audiences to the speakers. Unfortunately, too many of us treat our smaller non-profits in the same manner. BUT, these organizations run on volunteer work exclusively and really need us to step forward and serve.
In the past Americans had been noted for their volunteerism. Now, we expect the government or some magical “them” – “the other” to do the work necessary for us to enjoy the benefits of the associations to which we belong.
I’m reminded of a quote I used in my Board of Director’s Training Book[ii] which bears repeating today:
‘These Americans are the most peculiar people in the world. You’ll not believe it when I tell you how they behave. In a local community in their country a citizen may conceive of some need which is not being met. What does he do? He goes across the street and discusses it with his neighbor. Then what happens? A committee comes into being and then the committee begins to function on behalf of the need. You won’t believe this, but it’s true, all of this is done without reference to any bureaucrat. All of this is done by private citizens on their own initiative!
Americans of all ages, conditions, and all dispositions consistently form associations to give entertainment, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send out missionaries.
The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of function performed by private citizens.' Alex deTocquiville.
It is sad that in recent years we volunteer less and expect the paid professionals (or government employees) to do it all for us. This change has caused a loss of community involvement, a reduced sense of belonging and inhibited social contact.
Volunteering adds value to your life. Not only do you add value to your community, your nation, your pet causes, your industry and yourself – you enhance your professional reputation, your networks, your skills and in the business world, what employees think of you and the company in which you work.
What is value – added? Clearly, it is getting more than you bargained for; more than the basics of the product and service, more than just waking up in the morning, going to work, coming home and watching TV. In life, and in professional development, giving additional value is the significant difference between those who find happiness and succeed and those who don’t.
One of the most valuable lessons you can learn is to build in time to volunteer your services to organizations important to you. By volunteering, you afford yourself the ability to tackle new problems, meet new people, test your new skills, and network with others who get to see you in action. It is a growth experience, a networking opportunity and of course a way to feel good about yourself.
It is also one of the most important vehicles by which America continues to be a free nation. When we voluntarily take care of our communities and those in need, the government doesn’t need to step in and intervene.
When you voluntarily help educate our children through after school activities, you provide them with an opportunity to expand their horizons. When we voluntarily support our religious institutions no one group can dictate which religion is the “proper” one for our country. When we volunteer our services to the political party of our choice, we help to strengthen its ability to represent our beliefs in government.
When we volunteer our services to our professional organizations we help them flourish, we help in the growth of our profession, and support the continued growth of those in our chosen field. If we don’t volunteer in organizations that reply on volunteerism, we run the risk of having that organization fold. They need us as we need them.
Volunteering in our professional organizations is one of the most important ways we have to guarantee our career enhancement as well as the overall enhancement of the excellence of our profession.
And, if you want to view it from a totally self-centered point of view – what better way do you know to make yourself visible to your peers than by volunteering in your professional organization?
By volunteering you get known for the quality of your talents. By volunteering you get to be seen in a way that is richer than thousands of dollars of advertising. By volunteering you rub elbows with people you’d never get to meet otherwise, including people who might become very valuable to you professionally.
For all these reasons, giving yourself in a value-added manner to your community, your pet causes and your professional associations gives back to you a hundred fold, as well as it helps to strengthen the organizations to which you belong and preserve the freedom of this country.
[i] Portions of this article have been taken and modified from an article written by Dr. Diamond which appeared in the SVEC (Silicon Valley Engineering Council) newsletter, January 1997.
[ii] Training Your Board of Directors: A Manual for the CEOs, Board Members, Administrators and Executives of Corporations, Associations, Non-Profit and Religious Organizations. Diamond, ArLyne, Ph.D., 2005, Productive Publications, Toronto.