What most people get wrong about volunteering through work | Aaron Hurst


A lot of people looking to be more fulfilled
in their lives and work look to volunteering, doing service out in the community as a way
to do that. And it is a terrific way to do it. I want to share a little advice with you,
though, about how to approach that, given the work I’ve done with tens of thousands
of people and with leading companies around the world building corporate volunteer programs
because I think most people get volunteering wrong. And the first thing that we need to understand
about volunteering is that it can’t truly be a supplement for getting fulfillment at
work. A lot of companies, a lot of individuals,
say, look, I’m not fulfilled at work. I’ll volunteer and get that need met outside
of work. And this is really the wrong approach because
we spend the majority of our time at work. And we’ve seen our research. If you’re not fulfilled in work, you’re not
going to be fulfilled in your life overall. So the first step I recommend is before you
jump into volunteering, think about what could you be doing today to make your current work
more fulfilling? How could you be boosting your fulfillment? And part of that might be thinking about,
how could I volunteer internally? How could I help with sustainability? How can I help mentor people who are younger
than I am in the organization? How can I help do the work that’s meaningful
to me inside the organization? Because that’s actually going to be much more
gratifying for you most of the time than doing volunteer work. That said, it’s still incredibly valuable
to do work in a community. But there’s so many different ways to volunteer. And a lot of people who are new to volunteering
just sort of jump on whatever they hear in a company email, what they see a company doing,
instead of really being thoughtful about what is it that matters to them and what’s going
to be a fulfilling volunteer experience for them. There’s a number of dimensions to volunteering
that I just want to go through to help you think through what might be the right fit
for you at this time? One of the most important and challenging
parts about volunteering is making the time to volunteer. So as you’re thinking about volunteering,
really think about how much time do you have and what kind of time is that. And this is both a question of what time during
the day or during the week can you do it. It’s how much time. And is that time that you can do from your
desk at work, or is this time where you’re actually able to go out and be in the community? This is a really important variable because
it really narrows what you can do in terms of volunteering. The second piece, which really I recommend,
you know, thinking about somewhat in contrast to the first piece around how much time do
you have is really about what do you want to get out of the volunteering? Because a lot of times when you just think
about how much time you have, you’re doing that based on the assumption that you’re going
to get a certain value out of volunteering. But if you actually think about all the different
ways volunteering can help you, you may find you have more time than you thought. So what are the things you want to get out
of volunteering? What are the relationships that you want to
build? And that could be with existing co-workers. It could be people in your field. It could be with people in the community. What are the relationships you want to build? And those might be to help your career. They might be to be more connected to your
community. What is the impact that you actually want
to make? What would make you feel at the end of a volunteering
assignment that you actually made an impact versus what would really leave you frustrated
or feeling like I just skimmed the surface and didn’t do something meaningful? And then, finally, you know, really, how do
I want to grow? One of the main opportunities in volunteering
is growth, taking you outside of your comfort zone, doing something you don’t do everyday,
meeting new people, new settings. How can you grow through that environment? So if you think about all the different ways
you can benefit from volunteering, you might start re-evaluating how much time you want
to spend on volunteering. The next variable is really about the organization
that you want to volunteer through. So there’s thousands of nonprofit organizations
providing so many different volunteer opportunities being able to work for an organization where
you feel like maybe you could build a long-term relationship with them. Maybe you start off volunteering one way. But over time, you become more and more involved. And you’re actually committing and setting
down roots in an organization. What kind of culture would you want them to
have? What kind of values would you want them to
have? How could you from their website and reading
up on them learn about them to say, is this a place that actually I’d want to work? Because that’s a great test. If you wouldn’t actually want to work there,
it may not be the right fit for you as an individual and to really think about this
as getting to know an organization, not just for the surgical in or out. There are, in volunteering, so many different
ways to volunteer, from direct service, which is about helping individuals being on the
front line, you can be a mentor, working in a soup kitchen, cleaning up a park, a sort
of front line, direct service. Then there’s pro bono and skill-based volunteering,
where you use your professional skills to help nonprofits that don’t have access to
the marketing, the tech, the HR, that they would need otherwise, which really values
your time, and your expertise, and helps you grow in that way. And then there’s more governance-level work,
joining boards, helping organizations at that governance level. And then, finally, there’s really work as
an advocate, where you’re starting to almost move into that political realm, where you’re
starting to advocate for issues or for leaders out in the community that you see as issues
and organizations you want to get behind and do something bigger. So this is another part of thinking about
volunteering is, where do you want to show up on that spectrum? Which of those is going to be satisfying for
you? For a lot of people, serving on a board is
incredibly fulfilling. And for others, it’s the worst form of torture
on the planet. If you don’t sort of have that self-awareness
going into it, you’re very likely to have a bad experience and then writing off volunteering
altogether, not realizing that that would be like writing off all work altogether having
only done one job.

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