07 July 2014

Build a good reputation for volunteers

What comes to your mind when you hear the word "Volunteer"?

Some people think
  • "Hmm...volunteering is some nice thing to do. Something that people consider a noble cause" .
  • or "Err...I don't really know, but lemme participate and see"
  • or "It's one of those events with free t-shirts, caps and snacks, right? I'm in!"
  • or "It's an event where people put in their effort to make the world a better, more caring place"
  • or "Oh! That activity which is a goddamn waste of time! Nothing changes"
  • or "Searching for a bunch of scapegoats eh? Not me!"
  • or "I just want to do my bit for society"
Now what would come to your mind when you hear the word "Google"?
  • "Awesome!"
  • "Best search engine ever! Did you see today's doodle?"
  • "Hey, Google is launching xyz! I can't wait to start using it!"

Notice the difference? It's the brand value of the word. A reputation.
With time, Google has built for itself a splendid reputation with very good quality products and the best intellect on the planet!
But for volunteers, there's a mixed reaction. Why?

How people begin volunteering groups
Some people I know, began volunteering when they actually saw some area of society that badly needed to improve and got together friends/acquaintances, formed a group and started volunteering. No motive for fame. No motive for money. They just wanted to improve things or help someone who was helping society. This is real volunteering.

The other way is when people are asked to start a volunteering group and they catch a few people and ask them to become volunteers or ask them to start a volunteering group. These hapless people have no other option other than to do what they were ordered to do, and without a clue of what they're doing, they form a group of people who are usually forced to volunteer in a similar way and rather than evaluate areas of society where their help is truly needed, they go about mechanically performing what they call as volunteering activities and end up creating volunteering events which nobody really cares about, but you'd always see a bunch of people excitedly saying that they were part of a "noble cause" (often not even knowing why it's a noble cause). I call them non-volunteers.

Not all groups are like that though. I've seen some where they actually do care. They actually do take steps to improve the livelihood of people. They evaluate situations, brainstorm, connect with people who genuinely want to help, form guidelines and measure how they've progressed. Like the first group of people, this is real volunteering too.

Non-volunteers aren't actually welcome in many places
When you go to a place as a group to volunteer, you'll obviously be welcomed. People tend to try not to be rude to you. But when you go alone, you hear from people, the hard truth. I've been told by certain people, how they dislike having volunteers around, because "the volunteers just did some time-pass and went away". Or about volunteers who had to spend fifteen minutes doing volunteering and they looked at their watch and said "ok it's 13 minutes already. By the time we walk to the gate, it'll become 15 minutes".
People at these places can easily recognize which volunteers actually care and which don't. You'll only be breaking their hearts if you don't intend to help long-term. If your intention is just to donate something that helps them, then first ask the representative what they really need, and give them exactly that.

What people have to realize, is that non-volunteers aren't actually there because they wanted to. Somebody forced them to, so you can't really call them a "volunteer". When people grudgingly do the so-called voluntary work, they try to find ways to balance the sense of injustice they've been put through, by making the process more fun and entertaining (or by doing things for the namesake of it). There's nothing wrong in bringing some fun and excitement into volunteering, but it does become a problem when people focus only on this cream of the cake and forget the actual cake itself.
No wonder non-volunteers are disliked!

The alternative
The very act of being forced by someone to volunteer, is what corrupts the foundation of goodness and goodwill with which a volunteer offers their services to society. When you want to start a volunteering group, no matter how much of pressure you're under, please don't force people into it. Instead, either start volunteering yourself and set an example or join an existing good volunteering group and start volunteering with them. A fair bit of word-of-mouth advertising is also required to let people know and join in.

A volunteer or a volunteer group will have a good reputation when they have:
  • Good knowledge of what they're doing
  • and when they bring a lasting positive change in society by thinking, planning and doing things, long-term.

From my experience in volunteering, this is some of what I've learnt:
  • Don't think you're doing a favour to someone by volunteering. As a citizen of your country, you're enjoying many comforts of society. It's your duty to keep it a good society and to help others who don't yet have that privilege.
  • Volunteering requires genuine care, time, dedication and hard-work.
  • Encourage people to adopt volunteering as a way of life.
  • Don't volunteer just because someone told you to or because of some policy you have to follow. Do it because you really feel like wanting to do it.
  • Focus on one objective you want to achieve, rather than on many.
  • If you feel you've got no time to volunteer, then I assure you, you've misunderstood what volunteering is (I'll explain more in future blog posts).
  • Build a good reputation for volunteering, by doing work that actually helps society. This is done when a volunteer educates themselves about the field they're volunteering in, analyzes, consults experts, takes the help of more people, utilizes their core competencies and builds a framework with a long-term vision of sustainability. I have seen volunteers who do this, and these are the volunteers who have my utmost respect and admiration!

The next time someone says "Volunteer", let it have a positive response from everyone. There's a lot to be done to create this good reputation. How about starting right now!


More on volunteering

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