“I’ll Do It …” ~ A Short Primer on Volunteering

Powerful words, these …


Upon joining the Army, several friends who had already done their hitch, advised me to “Never volunteer.  Make them pick you“.   

As a young manager, my mentor told me to “Always be willing to take on extra responsibility“.

My wife on regular occasion reminds me that “You can’t say yes to everything“.

After decades of volunteer activity in both worker bee and leadership roles in a variety of corporate, non-profit, and religious organizations, I have some thoughts about volunteering to share.

I’m commenting from the perspective of a non-employee volunteer role, but most of these fit just as well in a work environment.

When you volunteer, you are making a promise to contribute at least one, and often all three of the following to an organization, group, or cause:


You are agreeing to make the volunteer activity a priority over other things in your life.  You are acknowledging that you will be there sometimes for this organization, a group, a cause.


You are agreeing that certain skills are in need by this organization, group, or cause.  You are claiming to have such skills and are willing to share them for the benefit of this organization, group, or cause.


You are agreeing that supporting this organization, group, or cause costs money.  You are further acknowledging that you are one source of providing that money, both directly and through influencing others to give as well.

The Rules About Volunteering:

1)  Only volunteer when you can honestly commit to at least one of the above.

2)  Only volunteer for what you are capable of providing.

3)  Only volunteer after exploring and identifying the needs you are willing to fill.

4)  NEVER volunteer to enhance your résumé or build your reputation.  You may benefit from your volunteer experience, but  your motivation should be to help.

5) If your situation or willingness to give changes, immediately tell them.  If you have to adjust your contribution, immediately tell them .  If you can no longer provide the contributions to which you agreed, immediately tell them.

6)  CARDINAL RULE:  Do what you say you will do for the organization, group, or cause.

Bonus Points:  Attending a charity event is not volunteering.  This is  “supporting” and is a fine thing to do, but volunteering is rolled-up shirt sleeves, outside the camera flashes and society page news, and is ongoing and sustained giving.  

If you are volunteering to do something outside your paid work position description at work, politics and culture are factors.  This is “additional duties as assigned or as you are willing to agree to“.  It’s usually not true volunteering either:)  

What did I miss about volunteering?  

What rings true with your experiences?

What would you add?  

Trying to keep it all in perspective in the Heartland ….