Posted by: Kristen Ridley | April 11, 2011

Volunteering: you get WAY more than you give

volunteerToday is the start of National Volunteer Week here in Canada. In honour of that I want to encourage everyone who reads this blog [and once again, thank you for that!] to become a volunteer, if you aren’t one already.

Sometimes, when the fact that I have a regular volunteer commitment comes up in conversation, people immediately offer the reasons they can’t volunteer themselves. While I would never presume to tell someone else how to live their lives, honesty compels me to say that most of those reasons I’ve heard just don’t hold up.

The first and most frequently cited reason, which I’m sure you’ve already guessed, is “I just don’t have the time to volunteer.” Here’s the thing – there are SO MANY different types of volunteer commitments out there that I GUARANTEE that it is possible to find a way to volunteer that can fit your life and your schedule. It doesn’t even HAVE to be regular time out of your week – you could do a one-time family trip to the food bank to sort food [which has the extra benefit of teaching your own kids how fortunate they are when they see what kind of food people donate], or you could donate clothes or old furniture to the Salvation Army, or, even better to a local battered women’s shelter. While you don’t HAVE to give your time, do give it some thought because it can be a very small commitment for so much coming back to you.

My own commitment, which, for the past 10 years has involved recording talking books for the visually impaired with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), requires just 2 hours of my time once per week. Think about that for a moment, and then think about how many hours you spend in the average week watching TV, or aimlessly surfing the net, or just sitting on the couch vegetating. Now, tell me again how you don’t have time to volunteer?

The other thing I hear from others when the topic of volunteering comes up is, “I wouldn’t know what to do or where to start.” My response to that is also consistent. I tell people to think about a condition or issue that has been important to them personally, or has impacted a member of their family. The best and most rewarding volunteer commitment is one that has personal meaning to you.

For me, the CNIB was the natural and personal choice because my maternal grandmother lost her sight in her 40’s, and the Institute for the Blind helped her to re-build her life with her new challenges. My grandmother never once complained about her vision loss, she just got busy re-creating ways to manage her challenge, and that is incredibly heroic to me still today, even though she’s been gone now for many years. So when I was thinking about volunteering, it just made sense to give my time to the organization that helped my grandmother, and helps other visually impaired individuals. When you add in the fact that I am a voracious reader myself, the idea that someone who otherwise would not have access to books can read [well, actually it’s listen, but you get the idea] because I donated just 2 hours a week seemed so easy I couldn’t not do it.

And here’s the very best part about volunteering – the good feeling and sense of doing something important I get from doing something to help others is more positive than I can properly express. Not only the staff at the CNIB, but the clients who read the books the volunteers record are SO appreciative of our efforts it is just unbelievable. One of my favourite parts about National Volunteer Week at CNIB is that the staff gathers up emails and letters from the clients sent to the recording studio thanking the volunteers for the talking books, and telling us what they mean to them. I never ever walk away from those notes without tears in my eyes. It is truly humbling and considering what a miniscule investment of time it requires from me, what I receive from the experience is so much more than what I have to give.

The other benefit to volunteering is that it helps me to put, and keep, the dramas and problems of my life in healthy and realistic perspective. I think most of us are guilty, at least from time to time, of thinking the challenges we face – here in our safe, wealthy, fortunate lives – are so trying! I am certainly guilty of allowing myself to feel sorry for myself [when the objective truth is that I have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to complain about!] on occasion. But having my volunteer commitment allows me, when the self-pity monster makes an appearance, to say to her: “Gee, that’s terrible! Imagine if you suddenly COULDN’T SEE?! How does that compare to YOUR challenge right now??” So far, in 10 years of volunteering, I haven’t once been willing to say my issue – whatever it happens to be – is worse than being blind. That always helps me to see the gifts and positives of my life and go back into it with gratefulness and appreciation. All that from just 2 little hours a week. How’s THAT for ROI?!

So I encourage you, if you aren’t already volunteering in some way, please take some time in honour of National Volunteer Week to think about what you might be able to do to contribute your time, your knowledge, your skills and your heart, or even just some money at the very least, to a cause or organization that means something to you, or that has helped someone you know or love. I promise you that it will give you so much more than you give it!



  1. Great post, Kristen! Thanks for spreading the word about our program. (CNIB loves volunteers!)

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