Volunteer Stories

volunteer stories

I was interviewed on a podcast a while ago (Let’s Have This Conversation, with Kevin McShan). On it I got the chance to share a few of the volunteer stories that I have experienced over the years. I realized how important it is that other people hear those stories and the lessons I learned from the experiences, so I thought I would share some of them here, too.

The first is about how I started volunteering – and collecting volunteer stories!

My family wasn’t one of those that encouraged us kids to go out and volunteer. It just wasn’t part of our family culture. I started volunteering by chance. One time, when I was about eleven years old, I was visiting my grandmother in the care home where she lived. Everyone was a bit down that day, because the person who usually came in and called Bingo for them wasn’t able to make it. Those who liked Bingo didn’t want to call it; they just wanted to play. Those who didn’t like it didn’t want anything to do with it! So, I volunteered. It’s not like it was a complicated thing to do! Afterward, all the players came up to me and were so thankful and appreciative that it lit a bit of a fire inside me, and it started me on a lifetime of volunteering.

I learned the joy and feeling of self-worth that comes to a person through helping others.

The road of volunteering, however, doesn’t always run smoothly.

I remember when I volunteered at a large museum. I filled out the application, went through all the checks and was assigned my first shift. When I showed up, the person in charge looked at me blankly. She had no idea who I was, what I was there for, and certainly didn’t have anything prepared for me to do. Looking around, she gave me some make-work project to fill my time. Okay, I thought, it’s my first shift; obviously someone didn’t let her know I was coming. Only it happened the next time as well. When I showed up for my third shift, I caught a look of annoyance on her face as I walked up to her desk. I never went back. No one wants to feel like they are more of a hindrance than a help. And I was a skilled and experienced volunteer!!

I learned the importance of being prepared for and appreciating volunteers.

Volunteers can do more than just menial or manual labour.

I have been a member of Toastmasters International for over 25 years. They are a world-wide (143 countries!) organization that teaches communication and leadership skills in a peer-instructed, club environment. It is a volunteer-run organization – right to the top. Our International President is a volunteer. Our International Board of Directors are all volunteers. As a District Director, I led a team of 20 direct reports, a budget of a quarter of a million dollars, and a membership of close to 5,000. I was responsible for the training of our members and the marketing of the organization. I chaired meetings of over 200 people, and spoke numerous times on TV and radio. All as a volunteer.

I learned how important it is to see volunteers as more than just an extra pair of hands. They are an extra brain, and may have many different skills that you can use.

All volunteer stories have lessons.

What experiences, good or not-so-good, have you had that helped you in your dealings with volunteers – or as a volunteer? What did you learn, and have you shared that learning? I encourage you to do so.

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