Guest Post: A Volunteer Speaks by Beverly Hom

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the difficulties nonprofits have with finding and managing volunteers. Today we’re going to hear the other side of the story- the volunteer’s perspective. Beverly Hom is a serial volunteer, and she’s going to start putting her talents to work for Xico. When I heard that she liked to write, of course I asked her to help with the Xico blog! Read on for her thoughts on why people volunteer and what makes a great volunteer experience.

What is your first reaction when you are asked to volunteer?  Do you cringe and walk quickly away, hoping the individual does not follow you, or do you say “Yes!” and schedule it into your calendar along with the thousands of other commitments you made that day?  Much to my chagrin, I’ve reacted both ways when approached to volunteer.  In the past, most of my volunteer forays happened because somebody close to me would ask me to help out, and all of a sudden, I find myself in charge and committed for the next two plus years.  Or, I’m in a meeting and without my knowledge or consent, my hand inadvertently raises to sign up for some task or other.  My first experiences with volunteering began with the school system.  With the rising costs and increasing class sizes, schools are more frequently turning to parents to help out.  I’ve been involved in PTO fundraising, working as an aide, lunchroom duty, office help, etc.   When my daughters were in their first years of elementary school, it served dual purposes, I was able to see them frequently, and help the school at the same time.  Volunteering at the school was in a way, a stepping stone.  It opened my eyes to the many non-profit organizations within my local community whose needs were just as great, if not more, for volunteers to step up and contribute.  Any number of organizations on the Internet; from the local police and fire stations, to the library, and the many shelters across the valley, have a webpage dedicated to volunteer needs.  I found that almost all public service organizations need volunteers, and whatever my interests were, there was inevitably an establishment that appealed to me and where I could utilize my existing skills, or even learn new ones. 

What makes a great volunteer experience?  It varies with each opportunity.  Sometimes you may be asked to serve on a committee, or you may be operating in an individual position.  When leading or serving on a committee, you may oftentimes find yourself doing the work alone, and chances are, there will be politics that must be dealt with.  Volunteering can be a huge learning experience.  From volunteering, I have learned about the inner workings of a non-profit organization, how to interact with people from all walks of life, the overwhelming needs of disadvantaged people, and how to work with other individuals of varying backgrounds.  In addition, I have picked up skills I never dreamed I would have, and found out many interesting things about myself I had never known.  On the flip side, volunteering can become a burden.  My friends and I used to joke that volunteering is a part-time job without a check and benefits.  If there is a lot of work, and little help, volunteers can often get burned out.  Public service organizations are also subject to complaints, and many times volunteers get the brunt of it.   Dealing with politics can be a definite disadvantage in volunteering, and coming together with a group of individuals who believe things can be only be accomplished their way, can be frustrating.   I can honestly say that volunteering has never been boring!

Overall, my volunteering experiences have been very rewarding.  I get to make a difference in someone’s life, even if I sometimes work in the background, and I’m finding out what my passion is.