How Volunteering Altered My Life Plans

I watched so much “Quincy M.E.” as a child that I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I talked about it so much that a family friend suggested to my mom that I serve as a Teenage Volunteer (previously known as Candy Stripers – my uniform was a red and white striped dress) at our local hospital. Since I’m not a doctor, you can guess how this turns out. My stint as a Teenage Volunteer at the hospital made me realize: I don’t like sick people. That volunteer experience likely saved me years of education and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Interesting side note, my first nonprofit fundraising job was in a hospital so I landed in healthcare after all – still helping sick people, just not with them day to day.

After earning a business degree in college, I went into banking. My dad was a banker so I assumed that I knew what I was getting into but… unfortunately I was miserable. Nothing against banking or bankers, it just wasn’t the right fit for me. During that really long year of banking, a sorority connection reached out to see if I would serve as a volunteer chapter advisor for a local chapter. While she was recruiting me for the volunteer position, I learned that she had been promoted and was replacing herself. That’s where my lifelong career in fundraising really began – all because I answered yes to an invitation to volunteer.

In neither of these instances of volunteering did I have a stated reason of ‘gain info that will dramatically alter the trajectory of my life’ but now that I look back, I see that they did.

As volunteer managers we have to remember that volunteering can change the lives of those who volunteer – perhaps not in such a drastic life path way as with my two examples – just as much as the people/cause/animal the volunteer is serving. When we take the time to figure out the why behind our volunteer’s gift of time, we can insure the relationship is benefiting them as much as it benefits our organization. Not taking the time to nurture those relationships and helping our volunteers find and realize their ‘why’ can leave the volunteer feeling unappreciated and ultimately finding somewhere else to give their time.

My recommendation is this: Invest some time nurturing the relationship with your volunteers. It will be worth it for you, for them and for the people you are both serving.

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