Sam WattsYears ago, a work colleague of mine consistently refused to participate in any benevolent activities that our company initiated. He would say, “I am looking out for #1”! Sadly, this is not a totally uncommon perspective. Yet people who serve as volunteers consistently say that the experience is enriching and meaningful. Happily, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer – and not just at the end of each calendar year. 

In most cases, community-based non-profit organizations can’t function without the support of dedicated volunteers. According to recent data, approximately 74% of adult Canadians reported that they had volunteered during the previous calendar year. When people consider volunteering there is a tendency to think about things like working at a local food security organization, driving people to medical appointments, making meals for seniors, or assisting with extra-curricular activities at schools.  However, there are many other ways in which people can donate their time and energy. 

Do you want to volunteer but you aren’t sure how? One way to get started is to simply step forward and help an organization where they know you already. It might also be at a school or with a sports organization where your children or grandchildren are students and/or athletes. A second way is to join a local service club that exists to do good. Examples include organizations like The Rotary Club of Westmount, Montreal West/NDG, or Montreal-Lakeshore. A third way is to find a reputable local community organization that is responding to compelling needs and connect with them. Find out how you can help. Let them know what your availabilities are and make them aware of any health restrictions you might have. For example, if volunteering includes heavy lifting, standing for long periods of time or driving all over the city, it may not be suitable for you.

There are three basic principles that apply to most volunteering efforts:  

    1. Respect commitments. One of the most challenging things for groups that rely on volunteers in their operations is to deal with “no-shows” or last minute cancellations. It is very important to establish boundaries whereby the volunteer and the organization are clear around expectations. This kind of conversation prevents misunderstandings and disappointment.
    2. Be excellent. Volunteering is an opportunity to use our capabilities outside of an employment setting because community organizations need competent and fully engaged volunteers. No matter how mundane or menial the task, it is important for volunteers to do it enthusiastically and efficiently.  
    3. Focus on those being served. While the experience of volunteering should be a good one, it is important to recognize that when we donate time to an organization, our own experience is secondary.  It’s all about the people we serve.  One international aid organization once told me that they “do not exist to give volunteers a terrific overseas experience – they exist to serve people in need.”   

Just a final note of encouragement. When someone volunteers with the goal of “giving back” they inevitably receive more than they give. Here’s to the thousands of volunteers in Montreal! Thanks for all you do!  

Sam Watts is the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission, a member of the National Housing Council of Canada, and the author of “Good Work…Done Better”

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