While walking my daughter into school this morning, I was stopped by several teachers who (after greeting me warmly) all noted that they had missed me and wondered when I was coming back to volunteer. Now I know they mean volunteer in the way I have for the last few years where I literally spent every day in the school in some capacity. I’ve written extensively about the power of volunteering for Volunteer Spot (“Summer of Service”), and to me volunteering doesn’t have to mean a daily commitment to a cause. In fact, what kind of commitment to make often changes for the volunteer over time. So my absence at the elementary school doesn’t mean I’m not volunteering in my school community, or my community at large, it just means that I have shifted my focus and have started to contribute my energies in a different way.
You might not have known, but today the United Nations recognizes International Volunteer Day (IVD). The purpose of IVD is to recognize volunteers and the organizations they give their time, talent, effort, and energy in order to help create peace and sustainable development. Volunteers do this by:
• Responding to action alerts, posting a blog, a tweet, or donating their Facebook status for a day.
• Contributing their time on-site helping with the physical tasks that the volunteer organization needs completed in order to achieve certain goals.
Far too often we think we must always do the latter in order to help our cause grow. I love the hands-on aspect of volunteering, whether it is chaperoning a field trip, reading a book with a student, building a playground, or working the school holiday shop. There is definitely a reward in this type of service, as you are often the recipient of immediate feedback such as a smile tells you that your presence made a difference.
However, as we recently learned through #GivingTuesday, sometimes we don’t have the time to what we want to do for the cause we believe in and support. So we make a voluntary financial contribution, which helps move the mission of the organization forward. Another way of continuing support is to become an advocate for your cause; by volunteering to post a link to their website via your social networking sites, you have helped them move their message forward. As Morra Aarons-Mele points out in “Using Social Media for Social Good,” the real return on investment (ROI) for #GivingTuesday has yet to be seen, but the bigger impact might be how we transform our thinking about charity and philanthropy.
So whether you act locally (volunteering in your community at a school, hospital, or community center) or act globally (blogging about international poverty issues, or the importance of vaccination programs), the bottom line is that we all have something powerful to contribute: ourselves.
As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”