You are asked to chair your son’s school library fundraiser for the third year in a row. The principal 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. You’re also under the gun at work and your kids’ sports activities are in full swing. You can barely fit it all in.
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 out of guilt offer to take a role with less responsibility.
c) explain you really don’t have the bandwidth to take the chair position on this year, wish the principal luck and write a check instead.
This New York Times article from a few years ago resonated with me. It was about mothers fed up with the amount of volunteer time schools were asking from parents. Even more interesting than the article were the reader comments that followed it.
Let’s just say there are a lot of ticked off mothers out there tired of being squeezed for free labor.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with volunteering but the demands on my time are getting overwhelming. I’m starting to say ‘no’ more and you know what?
I feel liberated.
Now I’m much more selective about my volunteer activities than I have been in the past.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a huge advocate for volunteerism, especially with so many worthy organizations. And I believe in putting good back into the Universe to pay it forward.
But, 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, work and require more time than we planned.
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. Most of us could benefit from being more strategic in our volunteer commitments.
As a volunteer you should be able to expect something back for your time (Yeah, I said it!) – 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:
- Think about what skill sets or relationships you would like to build. When you agree to volunteer, ask yourself if you will be able to build the skills sets you’ve identified as needs. Make sure your volunteer commitment addresses at least these needs.
- Manage your time ruthlessly. As a working mom, your time is valuable. Before you commit, decide on how many hours you really have to devote to a volunteer job. Be honest. If you really only have a few hours a month, chairing a board or an event committee is probably not for you.
- Be passionate about the cause. Yes, you need to be strategic and manage your time boundaries, but volunteering is about giving back to humanity. So only volunteer if you are truly passionate about the cause.
- Learn how to say “No” and mean it. There are no brownie points in the Game of Life for being a volunteer martyr. So say no if you have to and don’t feel bad about it.
- Have fun—or at least be around people you enjoy. If your fellow volunteers are Type A control-freaks and that drives you crazy, DON’T DO IT! Life is short, choose to be around people who give you positive energy not drain you.
What’s your volunteer philosophy? Share your thoughts in the comments.