A Reflection: Volunteering Transformed

I’m a giver. Sure you may call it codependent, but I like to think of it as giving.

I tend to prioritize other’s needs above my own. The good is that I get a lot of satisfaction out of volunteering.  The bad, well, I’d be more than happy to share with you details about the bad part, but only if I could pay for an hour of your time once per week.

I started volunteering at a young age. As a kid I’d spend summer days supporting physically disabled kids with my mother instead of hanging out with my friends. I spent Thanksgivings feeding the less fortunate. 

At an early age volunteering became an embodiment of who I am.

I give to the homeless. I always acknowledge those less fortunate and feel awkward when I walk by without giving them a little something.

I volunteer for shelters, community efforts and various non-profits. I go to events and work 10-12 hour volunteer shifts for days on end with nary a complaint.

But then a global pandemic descended upon us and suddenly things have changed.

It’s weird. When other disasters have hit in the past, I’d be driven to volunteer. Immediately after the Northridge quake I began efforts to search and rebuild.  The morning after the Rodney King LA Riots, I went down to Watts and Compton and started cleaning and rebuilding.  I did fundraising after 9/11 and food drives in the 2008 recession.  I am always eager to help and give back.

But in a global pandemic?

No thanks.

 I’ve found myself in an uber-selfish mode. I  am scared to help.   I am more hesitant to give to the needy because I don’t want to risk sickness. I am more hesitant to volunteer for organizations or events because I don’t want to be in crowds.   But the irony of this is that one of the most selfless things one can do these days is to avoid volunteering in crowds with others.  It’s important that we don’t co-mingle until we’re on the other side of COVID-19.

However, once there is a vaccine, will my mindset change?  It’s so easy to be selfish, to stay stuck in my own little world.  It’s so easy to stay scared even when the fear should subside.

In the end, we still don’t knows the long term impact this virus will have on volunteering. 

Because of it’s ease in spreading disease, cash is quickly becoming a thing of the past. If we move even further to a cashless society, what happens to the homeless and mentally ill who live off the generosity of others?

Will it be more difficult for events to get volunteers to help? Have we just knocked off the entire 65+ age group from ever volunteering again?

Will face masks and gloves be common place for volunteers? Health checks for all? Will higher risk people stop volunteering for fear of disease? Will healthy people stop volunteering for fear of the higher risk people?

The supplies alone may cost more for organizations to prepare for volunteers. So the ones who can’t afford the supplies – the ones who are in most need of help – may have the hardest time getting volunteer support.

I definitely can’t see into the future but I know how I feel now. And my feelings are currently on the “heck no” side of the desire to volunteer spectrum.

I suspect that will change as time goes by. But we are in a time of cultural transition, the result of which could be a significant shift in human behavior.

We are being secluded on our homes. We are rightfully being fed fear of physically interacting with others.

But we can lose site of who we are are and soon, I can only hope, the selfishness currently required to survive transforms back into an urgent need to help. And once again we can volunteer.

About the Author: Jeff Matlow

Jeff is the founder of imATHLETE.  He’s got a really good newsletter about best practices that you should sign up for here: bit.ly/IAmJeff

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From One Volunteer to Another: You Get Back More – Everyone Does

Cliches usually have no business taking up space on a blog post- no one has time for that. But in this particular circumstance, the cliché is apropos: It’s better to give than to receive. Our universal resistance to asking each other for help proves that this is the case! While it’s inarguably true that being asked to help a friend or family member is somewhat better- I think we can all admit that it can be a mixed bag. “PIVOT!!!”

Volunteering is a different story. When you show up at just the right moment to help someone, outside of the bounds of a social contract, the experience is much deeper. It stops being transactional in nature and becomes an act of humanity – one that often produces results that surprise and exceed the expectations of both giver and receiver.

Right now, in this extraordinarily difficult period, those investments are paying off at an all time high.

Usually at this point in a blog post, the writer pines on superfluously about a personal experience in which he, after several autobiographical paragraphs, has come rather expectedly to be inspired to write said blog post in the first place… like a flower that planted itself and grew to generate the seeds from which it sprouted. Let me save you the time, reader: I have come to love volunteerism, and I know that you will too.

When you invest money in someone who has less, you come awake to the realization that your money is worth more than you thought it was. The same is true of your time – and your voice. If you’re lucky enough to have the kind of volunteering experience where you come home tired and covered in dirt, you will likely find that you are somehow also full of renewed strength and energy.

Volunteering is a powerful, non-transactional gift that we each have a unique ability to offer. A gift with the power to leave you feeling like you have come to own more of yourself than you did before you gave some of it away. On behalf of VolunteerLocal, I hope you will consider volunteering in your own community during this difficult time.

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3 Principles of Volunteering

When someone volunteers with your organization, there are a number of things that happen. As the volunteer coordinator, you log valuable volunteer hours. The volunteer potentially fulfills some of their own personal goals and motivations. And finally, your organization is strengthened by the volunteer’s service, excitement, and energy.

There are three basic principles at play when a new volunteer joins the team. Knowing these principles allows you to leverage and utilize them in meaningful ways. 


When a volunteer joins your team, they receive the benefit of being affiliated with your organization. Maybe they plan on including it on their resume as a demonstration of community involvement. Or, perhaps, it is an opportunity to further collaborate with similar causes (such as other music festivals or 5Ks).

Help your volunteers understand the meaning of such an affiliation. If you are comfortable with it, you might even consider offering to serve as a resume reference. This will boost a feeling of affiliation, pride, and purpose in their volunteer work.


Some volunteers get excited to receive goody bags or free swag. Whether it is a pizza party, a collectible sticker to add to their collection, or a set of free tickets – identify which incentives matter most to your volunteers. Keep in mind – where there is swag, there is spending. Be sure to include any new incentives in your budget. (No budget? Reach out to corporate sponsors!)

There are often upsides to this type of spending. Beyond motivating and celebrating your volunteers, incentives can also serve as a new marketing strategy and/or a way to strengthen the feeling volunteer community.

Let’s take the example of t-shirts. Free t-shirts usually come with the organization’s logo, front and center. When the volunteer wears the shirt in public, they are showing support for the organization. Building on this idea, you could encourage volunteers to wear those t-shirts to all of your major events. A volunteering “uniform” will help your volunteers stand out in the crowd and feel proud of their role in the team.


Some volunteers appreciate (and deserve!) a show of gratitude to keep them motivated. There are many ways to acknowledge the work that your volunteers have done. Get creative! Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • Give your volunteers a special volunteer “status” if they have been volunteering with you a certain number of hours or years. Perks of that status might include: inviting them to participate in more important and exciting roles, gathering their input on leadership-level volunteer program decisions.
  • Hold an event in appreciation of your volunteers. A banquet or a summer field day might just do the trick! Check in with your volunteers to see if this would be exciting for them.
  • Include their name on the list of key volunteers or giving them a special thanks when they arrive and leave every day. Little gestures like this can make all the difference to your volunteers.

All three elements – affiliation, incentives, and recognition – are at play when a new volunteer joins your team. How will you help your volunteers leverage their affiliation for their benefit? How will you continue to encourage and motivate your volunteers with incentives? How will you recognize the work and impact of your volunteer team? With a bit of planning (and sometimes some extra funds), you and your volunteer team can feel fulfilled and motivated each day.

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Giving Thanks on Giving Tuesday

That time of year is upon us – family gatherings, gift exchanges, and over-eating.


For many of us, it also means coat drives, food drives, and donations to our favorite organizations. Six years ago, a campaign was started that kicks off the season of giving, aptly named Giving Tuesday. Occurring on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving in the U.S., it’s a chance to give back to your own community. 


The holidays are a time to reflect on those things we take for granted during the year and remind ourselves of what is truly important. It can be busy for everyone, and trying to juggle the regular holiday mayhem while piling on volunteer work may sound a little daunting. But as we become overwhelmed with holiday shopping and family feasts, prioritizing giving back becomes even more important for your community – and for yourself. 


As the weather gets colder, it’s a reminder that not everyone have access to the necessities we often overlook as comforts, such as a warm coat, a hot meal, or gifts for the holiday. Volunteering your time to work at a soup kitchen, or organize a gift drive for a local youth shelter makes a huge difference for community members in need.


Whatever type of community that you belong to, there are also likely festivals, nonprofit organizations, or charity races happening that raise money for a cause or offer an opportunity to bring everyone together. As members of a community, it is our responsibility to make sure those efforts are supported.


We each have a unique perspective of the world, and sharing your own passions through event organizing or volunteering helps others broaden their understanding of different communities. They might even find they have a passion for it, too.  


Feeling overwhelmed by the thought of organizing a gift drive or food pantry? VolunteerLocal is available for events of all sizes and budgets – including no budget. And however you give back, use this Giving Tuesday as a day to reaffirm your commitment to the power of volunteering. 


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