What makes a good volunteer?

by Tamara A.

Service has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Growing up, it was more a result of my family and the community that I grew up in as opposed to me choosing to be super involved on my own accord.  However, it became engrained in me.  When I finally got to college where I didn’t have any service requirements or pressure from others to sign up for the service opportunities through church or school, I found that there was something lacking amidst my new friends, parties and exciting college activities.  It was service.  I realized that I thrived on finding causes that I believed in and volunteering where help was needed.  Since then, I have looked for a variety of ways to get involved with my community and use my talents towards something beyond my personal needs.  Whether it has been helping to organize a local food drive or shipping myself off to Peru for a few months to help children, I have found so much reward in service.

Now that is my own story.  But there are so many people that offer up their time and talents to help others.  Volunteering is a super gratifying experience that is beneficial to both those being served and those serving.  And the great thing is, anyone can do it!  The terms “volunteering” and “volunteer” can apply to such a wide variety of activity that there is definitely a little place in there for everyone.  Donating your time to the local library is no less or more important than spending your time socializing with the residents of a nursing home or flying to Thailand to help out at an orphanage.

While I believe that everyone is capable of helping in some way, there are definitely some qualities that make people more inclined towards volunteering.  Here is a list of some characteristics that I believe most volunteers do/should possess:

1.    Being proactive. 

I can’t tell you how many people have said to me that they would like to get involved in some nonprofit or that they would love to volunteer for a certain event…BUT they don’t have the time, energy, money, or whatever excuse they come up with.  There seems to be a “but” for a lot of people.  The biggest obstacle in volunteering is the first step.  It is easy to say I want to help, but taking the initiative to call an organization or show up at an event is thing that separates the true volunteers from the wannabes.  So be proactive and make that first move.

2.    Belief in the small steps.

People get scared to volunteer, but the thing is, it takes the little steps to go the full distance.  When looking at a social issue in its entirety, it is easy to become overwhelmed at the massiveness.  Bring it down to a local level.  Look at it in the form of several steps and focus on one.  National hunger problem: find a local food kitchen that needs help.  Empowerment for handicapped individuals: sign up to work at the Special Olympics.  Lack of education in developing countries: focus on helping construct a hostel in Nepal for continued girls’ education.  You have to believe that even though you may be refining your focus, it is helping in the grand scheme of things.  If everyone does a little, that adds up to a whole lot.

3.    Willingness to be a little uncomfortable.

Volunteering is not always about staying within your comfort zone.  Most ventures will challenge you a little bit.  It may force you to interact with a wider variety of people, push you to think in new ways, and tryout a skill set that you didn’t necessarily know you had.  This is especially true with international volunteering.  For example, Edge of Seven volunteers sign up to help in a community where they do not know the language, are helping through physical labor, and do so without the modern conveniences that they are accustomed to.  These can be truly trying experiences, but equally worthwhile.

4.    Heart.

The most important quality is the passion to help.  This seems almost too obvious to say.  A volunteer should truly care about what they are doing and the people that they are helping.  Believe it or not, I have witnessed individuals showing up at an event and proceeding to complain or avoid completing any work for the length of their “volunteering”.  What good is this for anyone involved?  If you don’t want to be there, don’t be.  If you want to be there, then you will inevitably be driven to help in whatever capacity you are able to.  It is this heart that allows so much to be accomplished through volunteer work.

As I said before, ANYONE can volunteer.  Find something that you believe in and try to find a way that you can help further the cause.


One thought on “What makes a good volunteer?

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