Friday, April 18, 2014

Giving back

National Volunteer Week is just behind us and over the years, I have done my share of volunteering.  To be honest, I have gained way more than I have ever given.

Here are just some of the lessons I have learned along the way.

1.             There’s more than one way to help someone
As a volunteer probation officer, I was assigned to a young lad who was into motor bikes, especially those that didn’t belong to him.  I can’t say it was an easy match.  

I connected more with his parents, and in the end, it was through working with them, that I was able to support him.

2.             Small things make a difference
Early in my volunteer career, I used to run a mothers’ group for Children’s Aid.  I had this Pollyanna approach that I was going to “save” the women which I soon realized was so not the case. So I lowered my expectations, and was content if a woman wore lipstick one week, as that meant she was feeling better about herself. 

3.             People show you what they want you to see
It was through the mothers’ group that I learned this important lesson. I had been showing the mothers how to do crafts at home inexpensively, with shaving cream and food colouring. 

One woman refused to do it. It turns out that if she’d gone home smelling of shaving cream, she would “pay” for it.  (We later hooked her up to the local shelter and helped her on her escape plan.)

4.             Words are powerful
As a “reporter” for a newsletter – Halt-on-Abuse – I was fortunate to be mentored by the editor, who was my first teacher on the importance of words and how with the right ones, you can have an impact.

5.             Mutual respect and a shared vision makes things happen
I have served on numerous boards, and when they work well, much of it is due to people respecting each other, the contributions and talents shared and have a common vision of what has to be done.  When that is not in place, it is tough and often the group is doomed to fail.

6.             You can’t always win
As an entrepreneur I am used to making my decisions without too much consultation.  That strategy doesn’t work when you are part of a volunteer team, each with an equal voice on what happens.  So not only does it take longer to reach consensus, but you don’t always get your own way.  Sometimes you have to go with the flow.

7.             You don’t know where it will lead
Several times in my career, I have stepped up and taken leadership roles within an association.   Little did I know that as a result, I would have exciting work opportunities come my way such as Editor of Today’s Parent.

8.             You broaden your network
I have met people from around the world as a result of my volunteer work.  Folks I would never have met except for our common interest in the organization that recruited us as volunteers.

9.             Know when to leave
No matter how much you may believe in the cause, there are times when the frustrations and dysfunction make it impossible to stay involved.  That’s when you have to step back and ask yourself if your contribution is worth the personal grief involved.  It may be time to leave and share your expertise elsewhere.

10.         Bottom line, it has to be fun
I have made some wonderful friends through my volunteer work and to me that is one of the biggest gains.  If you are not learning, growing and having fun, then it may not be a good match.

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