If you feel that you don’t enjoy volunteering, you are not alone. A lot of people go into a volunteer experience with the best of intentions. But they wind up disappointed by something that should be making them feel good.
Does that mean you should give up volunteering for good? Or that you just have to suck it up since it might be good for your career? Or simply that doing good doesn’t have to feel good.
Reasons People Don’t Enjoy Volunteering
Here are things people have told me about their own volunteer experiences:
- When I signed up, I wanted to use my skills. But they have me in a corner stuffing envelopes and making copies. It’s boring!
- They aren’t managed well, so things are going wrong all around. Feels like unmanaged chaos.
- They mean well, but are just too busy to manage me properly. Managing volunteers well takes time and effort — and training.
- The people who work there don’t pay attention to me at all. I feel like an outsider. But I want to feel like part of the team.
- I hoped to be contributing to something important. But I don’t see all that much going on.
- They don’t know what to do with me. Some days I just sit waiting for something to do.
- Different people tell me what to do. And I have to drop everything and listen to my latest “boss”.
Can you make volunteering feel better?
Good question. Well, one of the first things you can do is to ask some key of questions before you start. If you have different picture from what they expect of you, then this may not be the right volunteer experience. Even if you love what the organization does.
Questions you might ask before starting:
- Please tell me a little about the work that goes on in this office.
- What kinds of things do you need help with?
- What do you see me doing at first?
- Who will be managing me?
- Will there be an opportunity to use my skills such as ______?
- What hours will I be working? (You negotiate this together.)
- Have you had volunteers before? What did they work on? (If not, they may need help clarifying specifics and finding time to manage you.)
- What kinds of unexpected things might come up?
And if it feels like it won’t work for you, be honest. You’ll save everyone time and effort. The same is true if you do start and, after trying your best, still feel like it’s a bad fit. But, the following story shows how sometimes you can make it work even with a slow start.
My own “don’t enjoy volunteering” story
There was a time in my life when I wanted to change from a career in banking to something in the non-profit sector. I especially wanted to work in housing and/or issues of homelessness. So I was thrilled when a friend got me a volunteer job at a well-known transitional housing organization.
But when I got there, everyone was too busy to figure out how to use me best. So I stuffed envelopes on some days. Answered phones on other days. Made copies on most days. And just sat waiting on some days, since no one had a permanent role for me.
But I used that time to observe and ask questions, when people didn’t look to busy to answer them. And I waited for an opportunity. One day I heard something about a study they were doing to help get a new residence built in a Staten Island neighborhood.
Taking advantage of opportunity
Since I had some background working with research analysis (not that I was an expert), I screwed up my courage and approached the Deputy Director. I told him I could help by gathering information about the neighborhood demographics and social / political “personality”. And he said yes.
While I still helped with other tasks, I now had an interesting project. One that made me feel I was contributing to their important mission. And when they got approval, they told me they had used my report to help tailor their proposal to fit the neighborhood. And I got to talk about that when I interviewed for my next job working with the New York City shelter system.
It took time and patience — and some unobtrusive snooping. But eventually I found a way to make that particular volunteer job work. Not all of them will. But hopefully with the right questions up front — and some creativity once inside — you can turn “I don’t enjoy volunteering” into a big “I love it here!” Or at least I feel good about what I’m doing, which is the point after all.
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