I’ve volunteered for many projects and causes. Along the way, I’ve learned some lessons that are worth sharing.

The first thing you must know, is that volunteering is not for everyone. It’s hard work and is typically a thankless job. You’ll probably never be taken for granted as you will, while volunteering. This is because very few people have mastered the art of appreciating what they did not pay for. Nonetheless, there are many good reasons to volunteer. But when you do so, it’s a personal decision and know that you are not doing anyone a favour.

Your reasons for volunteering may include belief, fulfillment, networking, self development, experience, exposure, purpose and so on. Once you begin, you must demonstrate the same level of dedication, commitment and excellence you would give to a paid assignment. Anything else is unworthy of you and a disservice to the cause you signed up for. A sacred tenet of volunteering is to give the same level of quality to God, country, Alma Mater or cause.

Always keep in mind why you’re volunteering. It will help on those days you feel like quitting. And I assure you, there will be days you’ll feel that way. You will feel like you’ve wasted your effort, when you are unappreciated or when politics stands in the way of progress. Have clear outcomes for service in your mind and a time frame. I said time frame, because there are some things you should be wary of, when volunteering. Here they are:

i. Beware of never ending assignments.

If you choose to serve on a revolving basis, still fix a definite tenor. You can then renew. Tenor gives you a chance to re-evaluate and take stock of achievements, failures and the changing objectives of the organisation you’re serving.

ii. Beware of “dumping syndrome”.

This happens when a group decides on a course of action, but somehow, implementation solely falls on your shoulders. Strongly resist this. Yes, the responsibility may be an acknowledgement of your ability, but trust me, it’s more about everyone else avoiding the work. If a project is a team effort, everyone should share the burden of implementation. A project without commitment of resources for implementation, is dead-on-arrival.

iii. Document your contributions for posterity

Sometimes, you do great work but when the project is recognised or training opportunities become available, your contributions are conspicuously unacknowledged. I call this a conspiracy of ingratitude. Document your contributions for posterity (not for boasting rights). This is because anything that isn’t documented does not officially exist. If you ever need to walk away from the project, the lessons you’ve documented will stand you in good stead on the next project. Your contributions will also serve as a reference. Never walk away from a project in anger or bitterness. Service is a choice and an honour. Do your bit and move on in dignity and with good will.

iv. Beware of tunnel-vision.

Never sacrifice your purpose, family or life calling for someone else’s vision. Unless, the project is a fulfillment of purpose. This is where tenor comes in handy. It gives you a chance to assess the objectives of the project and to adjust accordingly.

v. Beware of waste.

When you volunteer, make sure there’s an execution system in place to deliver a viable product. Else, all your efforts will come to nought. Imagine creating beautiful plans that never see the light of day.

Never volunteer for a cause whose leaders are not committed to implementation. It’s a waste of your time and effort.

Now, a word for organisations that use volunteers.

If you regularly court professionals as volunteers, there are a few things to bear in mind. Your staff must be ready to give up weekends and after hours to align with their free time. This is because oftentimes, weekends and after-hours are only time they have to give, after their day jobs. If you request for their time, you may not get it at your convenience. More so, if your volunteers reside in a different time zone from yours. They will likely call at odd hours, because that’s the only time they can spare.

Finally, treat your volunteers with respect. Honour and celebrate them in small ways. It could be as simple as a birthday call or providing lunch after a tedious meeting.

Never walk away from a project in bitterness. Service is a choice and an honour. Click To Tweet

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