This is one of my favorite posts from late last year that I’m re-posting while I’m on vacation. I hope you enjoy it.
You are asked to chair your son’s school library fundraiser for the third year in a row. The school librarian tells you that no other mother is as organized or has raised as much money as you have and begs you to take the position. Your company’s fiscal year is ending and you’ve been putting in long hours at the office to get plans done for next year. Do you:
a) grudgingly accept the assignment, gnash your teeth and vow that this year is absolutely the last time you will chair this committee.
b) turn down the committee chair position but because you feel guilty, offer to take a role with less responsibility.
c) explain that you really don’t have the bandwidth to take the chair position on this year, wish her luck and write a check instead.
A few weeks ago this New York Times article caught my eye. It was about mothers fed up with the amount of volunteer time schools were asking from parents. Even more interesting than the article was the firestorm of reader comments that followed it. Let’s just say there are a lot of ticked off mothers out there who are tired of being squeezed by their children’s schools.
D2 isn’t in school yet so I haven’t had to deal with the school volunteering issue, but I’ve been around the volunteering block a time or two. I’ve chaired the marketing committee for two different non-profit organizations and volunteered for many others. The work I got involved in was incredibly rewarding and it was a lot of work. Oftentimes, I felt like I had two jobs – the job I got paid for and my committee chair role. But I also got a lot back in return. My volunteer work allowed me to expand my network, meet a wonderful group of friends and make a difference for two organizations I really cared about. The reality is that public schools and most non-profit organizations rely heavily upon volunteer labor. As a volunteer, it’s easy to get burned out on the work even if you are passionate about the cause. Women are particularly susceptible to over-committing because we hate to say no and we feel guilty when we do. So what do we do? We agree to chair committees, plan galas and organize fundraisers. We smile on the outside and seethe on the inside when these commitments encroach upon our family and work and require more time than we planned. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a huge advocate for volunteerism, especially now when the economy is so bad and many worthy organizations are struggling to fulfill their mission. And I believe in putting good back into the Universe to pay it forward. But most busy women could benefit from being more strategic in their volunteer commitments. As a busy professional, you’ve probably put a lot of care and thought into your career and what you need to do to be successful at work. Why not put that same level of thought into your volunteer commitments? It may not be very PC to say so, but I think as a volunteer you should be able to expect something back for your time – in the form of a new skill, industry experience, an expanded network, or whatever is important to you. Here’s my short list of things you can do to make sure you don’t end up with volunteer malaise:
What’s your volunteer philosophy?