Volunteering – a noble aspiration!


One of the things regularly recommended for retirees is to take up a voluntary role. Indeed, volunteering can be a great way to keep connected and maintain our self-worth.

Many of us will have done volunteer work throughout our lives through involvement in long standing service groups, e.g. Lions, bodies associated with our children’s school or just once a year on Cleanup Australia Day; the opportunities are many and diverse.

In the process of rewiring (retirement, semi-retirement … as you choose) getting involved more fully in volunteering can be worthwhile. This may be part of your “giving back’” to our communities, supporting a cause, furthering an interest, a hobby or learning, expanding social connections. There may be a myriad of other motivations now you have a little more time on your hands.

At this point I must say, whilst still working (very part time) I’ve never been so busy in my life!

Volunteering may fulfill many different objectives for you, but at the end of the day will hopefully be an enjoyable and productive use of your time.

I guess there is a continuum between social drivers and committed objectives i.e. doing something predominantly to mix with others and have some fun, or with specific outcomes to be achieved. Nothing wrong with a little frivolity and laughter while picking up litter on a beach or a bushland reserve, being a member of a volunteer fire brigade or feeding the homeless.  Whatever your focus,  the objective is to serve a broader purpose for the greater good.

There is, however, a distinct difference between a social group (the objective being entertainment or having fun) and a volunteer group with formal structures, rules etc. (it may possibly be an incorporated body). You need to understand the difference and decide what type of organisation suits you best. Be aware too of the risks you may sign up for as a committee member or director.

Personally I have two conditions for volunteering: one is that although I’m doing it for free, I’d like my time to be valued and not squandered on “make work” projects, the second is that I don’t believe in volunteering for profit making corporations. I’m not talking about community fundraising, that is a valuable activity, but I see a fine line between exploitation and volunteering. However, I digress.

There are other considerations here, particularly if you are completely new to a group and more particularly if you have moved to a different community and have decided to take the plunge into volunteering as a “newbie”.

I was recently asked by friends about integrating into a new community through joining volunteer organisations.

My experience suggests that most groups welcome new members with open arms as you represent another pair of hands to spread the load. But be aware that two ears, two eyes and one mouth will be the correct proportion! Give it time, know your facts. Watch and listen, as this is your opportunity to see how things work and decide if it suits you.

Sit back and observe for some time until you are genuinely asked for your opinion. That, “So what do you think?” question is best answered very diplomatically if you are uncomfortable with the status quo; the question may actually be asking you to endorse what is already happening, no other opinion required!

Tempting though it may be to jump in with helpful suggestions, it is inevitably better to establish the internal politics of the group before dipping a toe into their water. On the other hand, you may simply resolve to keep quiet, go with the flow and just enjoy the ride; or you may decide to take your skills and talents elsewhere.

Remember the “fun” bit of being a volunteer?

I have had some hard lessons but I have also had very rewarding times, learnt a lot and feel I’ve made – and hope to continue to make – a valuable contribution, of which I’m proud.

What have your volunteering experiences been like? Where have you felt your contributions have been most valuable or valued? Is there wisdom in the pointers above, or are they or just the mind of an old cynic.

Older and Wiser