Thursday, April 4, 2013

Volunteering: Making the Right Decision

Winston Churchill once said, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”   Volunteerism is one of the hallmarks of an advanced civilization and is a gift of self, freely given.  When, where and how to volunteer are, therefore, important questions to carefully consider when deciding which cause, group or organization will be the recipient of your skills, energy and time.


The phrases “passive and active decision making” are terms coined by Bob Abelson who made many contributions to social psychology, political psychology, cognitive science, and statistics.  So many times, we make decisions passively.  We think we have one or two alternatives and without thought, we move into action.  Do I want the white refrigerator or the stainless steel one?  The red blouse or the blue one?  I’m asked to lead a project at my church or at work, and without thought to the level of commitment that might be required, I say “yes” because I love to help.

Passive decision making is usually automatic or routine employing little thought or analysis.  It can be fine for the simple, routine choices we make day to day.  Decisions that impact our resources of money, time, and energy, however, require a more vigorous engagement with the possibilities.


Active decision making requires more thought, time, and energy, but it helps us expand our line of thinking and make an informed decision.  Exploration - with awareness - supports solid choices that we can really commit to and sustain it over time.  Before volunteering, carefully consider your options and the impacts of your choice.  


How to Begin

Consider the following steps to begin your exploration:

1.      Make a list of your likes, preferences, skills, knowledge and available time. 

2.      Make a list of organizations and causes that you feel a connection with or that are important to you. 

3.      Do an internet search or ask friends for suggestions.

4.      Check the organizations’ websites and pay attention to how you feel – do they draw you in?  Is their cause aligned with your interests and values?  Do their opportunities match your strengths?

5.      Talk with their volunteer coordinator to understand their selection process and to ask questions about the organization.  Ask to be connected to current and/or past volunteers and talk with them about their experience.

6.      Complete their forms – this part of the process can help you to examine your own skills in a deeper way and helps you learn more about how the organization does business.

7.      Pay attention to how you feel throughout the process – trust your intuition.


Keeping the Process Active

Here are additional questions and criteria you can use to make your decision:

  • What are the organization’s vision and mission statements, strategic plan, bylaws?

·         Is the group’s purpose compelling to me?  Does it further a cause important to me?  Will its purpose fully engage me and utilize my skills and talents?  Is it life affirming? 

·         How will I contribute?  Are my skills and interests aligned with this activity?  What are the role and responsibilities of this volunteer position?

·         Could this activity have a positive impact on my growth and on the growth of others? 

·         Does this activity move me toward or away from my life purpose, goals, and priorities?  Does this activity create a conflict of interest with my purpose, goals, and priorities?

·         Am I excited about the potential volunteer activity?  What makes it exciting? What do I get out of it?  What do I give up by engaging in it?  

·         Are there travel requirements?  Can I get there on time, each time?  

·         What resources of time, attention, and energy will this activity require?  Will it require resources I do not have or do not want to give: money, a certain type of network, skills and knowledge?

·         Is this activity sustainable in my life – will it require more than I can give?

·         How long is this commitment for?

·         Who will I work with?  Are they positive and inspiring? 

·         What additional information do I need to help me with my decision?


Anyone who has volunteered knows the many benefits that flow into the community and the benefits that flow back to the individual volunteer.  As we give, so we get.  Make a commitment to share yourself with others, but make a good decision – an active decision – that you will be proud of for years to come.


“I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
                                                                                                            -- Dr. Albert Schweitzer




Peg McQuarrie is a certified professional coach and the owner of WellSprings Consulting.  Her passion is to support others as they step into the successful, meaningful, authentic lives they are meant to live!  For almost 20 years, she has helped individuals and work groups maximize their potential and achieve personal, business, and organizational success.  Her services include coaching for individuals and teams; design and facilitation of group retreats; design and delivery of personal and professional development workshops; and organizational consulting. 


Peg earned her Master’s in Education from Northern Arizona University and received her coach training through the Adler School of Professional Coaching.  She is certified by the International Coach Federation.  Learn more at or check out her page on LinkedIn.



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