Why We Volunteer, Why We Should
The parent who helps their child’s teacher with homework and activities.
The individual who helps feed the homeless on Thanksgiving.
The person who helps organize a neighborhood effort to address crime or blight or to promote a cause.
They are all volunteers.
Volunteering is defined in various ways: as an offer to help; to suggest without being asked; to work without being paid. Volunteering reflects basic human needs to have a voice, to connect, to help in a way social media campaigns can’t. Driven by a desire to make a difference, volunteers are not motivated by the dollar but by a need for change.
During election years or in reaction to tragedies or injustices, volunteers take on greater roles. They may put in more work, they may be more vocal, and they take on greater risks to their physical and/or socio-economic well-being. We call these types of volunteers activists.
We’ve seen it recent weeks: Protests. Walkouts. Marches. High school students and supporters all over the country walking out in a coordinated nationwide protest of legislative, congressional inaction over gun violence.
They are reminders, as we step away from our keyboards, that our physical presence in our communities still makes the biggest impact. And while making a difference might be the best reason for volunteering, it’s certainly not the only one.
Psychology Today, in outlining the five primary benefits of volunteering, says that volunteers live longer and are healthier. Later in life it says, “volunteering is even more beneficial for one's health than exercising and eating well.” It says that volunteering establishes strong relationships in the community as well as within families, is good for a person’s career, is good for society, and gives the individual a sense of purpose.
Businesses, organizations, museums, social service organizations, faith-based organizations, almost all mission-driven organizations, etc., are successful only if they maintain a strong volunteer workforce.
“Although it is not well-understood why volunteering provides such a profound health benefit,” the magazine says, “a key factor is assumed to be that volunteering serves to express and facilitate opportunities to carry out one’s sense of purpose. The very nature of volunteering means choosing to work without being paid for it - people choose to spend their time on issues they feel strongly about.”
Recently, in an article for The Huffington Post, Dionna Mash of California State University Chico outlined similar reasons for volunteering, which also included more self-serving needs such as exploring new interests, developing job skills, and meeting new friends. However, the author maintained perhaps the top reason for volunteering: to make a difference.
Here in Memphis, we live in a city that ranks annually in the top five cities nationwide for charity and volunteering. We continue to be a city where anyone, from grade school to post-retirement, can make a difference. In Memphis there are numerous resources for volunteering, including the popular website Choose901’s page “25 Ways To Volunteer In Memphis.”
The website volunteermemphis.org, “an action initiative” of Leadership Memphis, is headed by the inspiring phrase “Do good in Memphis.”
This initiative mentions building capacity for effective volunteering and connecting people with opportunities to serve the city and the county. It uses collaborative efforts in working with “nonprofits, churches, schools, corporations, and other groups that engage volunteers to make community programs stronger.”
And therein may lie the heart of it. Behind our social media “likes” we are exercising the more passive actions we can take in attempt to make a difference, whereas by volunteering we move toward the strongest actions we can take to bring about real change.
In years such as this commentators bring out cliches like “volunteering and activism may be more important than ever.” Volunteering is always important, no matter the year. But in an era that has been defined by “likes” versus actual votes, when congressional voting grossly ignores nationwide polls, the cliche this year may prove to be truer than at any time since the 1960s. 2018, already shaping up as the year of the “March For Our Lives,” stepping away from our keyboards and volunteering may indeed prove to be the real change maker come this November.
It takes just one of us to stand up, one volunteer at a time, to become all of us.
Mark Fleischer is a Midtowner and the publisher of StoryBoard Memphis
Email us at Future901pac@gmail.com if you're looking for ways to volunteer!