I think most of us have seen the variations of the national ad campaign which asks the simple question, Got Milk? Since April was National Volunteer Month, perhaps the question should be, Got Volunteers? Americans are good at volunteering. In a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 62 million people donated an average of fifty hours of their time and efforts to help local agencies carry out their missions last year. Religious organizations received the most volunteer hours, 33%, while educational related organizations, like The Literacy Center, were second with 26% of the volunteer hours. While the overall national volunteering hours are down some in recent years, people are still finding time to help their neighbors. In fact, almost 20% of the volunteers help two or more organizations.
Ask anyone how their life is going and most will say they are busy. So why do already busy people give up their spare time to volunteer for people they may not even know? The Corporation for National and Community Service asked volunteers what they felt they got out of their efforts. It’s not surprising that the most frequent answers were satisfaction, pride, and accomplishment. However, if you go deeper, people also felt they were able to use their gifts and skills to solve problems, strengthen their community, improve lives, connect with others, and transform their own lives. In other words, they volunteer, not because they have to, but because they want to, and that goes to the very heart of volunteering. People don’t do it for fame or fortune, because there is none. They do it because they have a specific skill and a heart for helping people.
For many years volunteer boards were notorious for filling seats with anyone willing to spend a few hours around a table each month. That just doesn’t work with the competitive financial climate of non-profits today. For example, The Literacy Center board is filled with a diverse group of people and they each possess multiple skills and experiences from their “other” life that are valuable in guiding the organization. So, as National Volunteer Month winds to a close this year, look at the skills you possess, and ask how you can make your community better by making the lives of others better? Not only does it help those citizens your organization assists, but it can be life changing for you too. One final thought, if you are part of an organization that uses volunteers, please don’t forget to thank them for their time. No, they don’t do it for the recognition, but it sure does feel good to know you appreciate their efforts.
Larry Oathout, Board of Directors
Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library COO