Volunteering . . . giving of your time for the benefit of others, giving of your time without expecting or receiving any financial gain. If you read anything about voluntarism right now you will find one consistent theme: that the ranks of volunteers are declining and that organizations dependent upon volunteers are struggling to recruit and retain.
Why does volunteering matter? In the nonprofit world many small organizations survive on very limited budgets, minimal resources and few, if any, paid staff. These organizations are completely reliant on volunteers to do everything from managing to actually providing direct service. Without the efforts of dedicated volunteers, these organizations could neither function nor meet their mission.
In a much larger organization, like the Jewish Home Family, we have a significant budget and well over 400 members of our paid staff. Yet volunteers still matter – and they matter a great deal. Our volunteers come in many varieties — some of them do “hands on” things like visiting with residents, providing transportation to and from activities, reading to people, offering programs and much more. Still others serve in ways that are less direct contact but equally vital, like working in the Gift Shop or planting flowers to beautify our environment. Volunteers play key roles in governance, serving as board members and helping to shape the direction of our organization for the future, providing that important link to our community.
There are many reasons why the ranks of volunteers are declining nationally, ranging from dual income couples to the pace of all of our busy lives. Yet, at the Jewish Home Family our numbers of volunteers have not only remained steady but even increased over time. Why do we think that is and does it teach us anything?
Volunteers want to make a contribution, to do something that is meaningful. In working with our most frail and vulnerable older adults, the results of volunteer effort are very visible. When you work with someone directly, even sitting and visiting, the joy you create is palpable. In areas — where direct contact is less, the impact is still very apparent-watching the faces as people sit outside and enjoy the flowers that were planted or knowing that the warm shawl you knitted is providing comfort to someone who needs it. On a more global scale, board members serve as ambassadors in the community, telling our story, sharing their pride in the organization as well as sharing their “time, talent and treasure” with us.
Residents at the Jewish Home Family also serve as volunteers on a variety of projects from working with school groups and sharing their stories, teaching English as a second language, reading to elementary school children, packaging and delivering Shabbat baskets to those in need and so much more. They get the same benefit we all do from volunteering — the joy of giving back, the satisfaction of reaching outside yourself to help others.
When we volunteer in any way, we always wonder who gets more from it, whether it is those we are helping or whether it is we that truly benefit. We are grateful to all our many dedicated volunteers, we salute them this week with a “thank you” event but, in truth, they deserve our thanks every day.