Saturday, December 31, 2011


By Julie Rahm

Three cheers for volunteers! As America’s Mindset Mechanic, I inevitably coach non-profit directors who lead volunteers. Leading volunteers can be both challenging and rewarding. When a manager has underachieving volunteers, I first attempt to improve the manager’s understanding. The wise say, “Seek first to understand”. So, it is important to understand why the volunteer volunteers. Even the most minor of issues won’t be resolved if the manager doesn’t understand why the volunteer is there. Six basic reasons for volunteering come to mind.

The first is recognition and feedback. Most volunteers seek to be recognized for their contributions. Public recognition may not be required. The recognition can be quiet appreciation from their manager or from the people they serve. A simple “Thank-you” can go a long way to re-motivate a volunteer. Recognition and feedback cure most of the challenges managers may have with volunteers.

The second reason for volunteering is personal growth. Volunteers learn on the job. The volunteer finds the learning fulfilling enough to keep coming back and contributing more.

Third is giving something back. The volunteer has been fortunate in some way. And now, the volunteer is returning the good fortune.

Fourth is bringing about social change. Many people volunteer for prison programs. These volunteers want to change lives and improve the lot of others. When my husband John was in prison, I first met him there while volunteering. (I’m only kidding about that! It was the Marine Corps.)

Family ties are the fifth reason. Often, people join their family members who are volunteers. When John or I decide to volunteer, we inevitably sweep each other into the cause.

Lastly, people volunteer for friendship, support, bonding and a feeling of belonging. Social needs are fulfilled when people volunteer as a part of a group. Accomplishment as a group can be very rewarding.

During the aftermath of hurricane Irene, volunteers were abundant. Neighborhoods were drawn together as residents came to each others aid. Often, it was those who were hurt the worst that gave the most. Our neighbor’s house was damaged far worse than ours. But, we are still thankful for their electric extension cord that kept our refrigerator alive until power was restored. In another case, a Pamlico County neighbor, who was totally isolated without a car, a phone, or electricity, barbequed the contents of his freezer thus feeding his neighborhood for days.

I also have great admiration for our local first responders. Despite their personal situations, they volunteered all over Pamlico County. A volunteer fireman’s home in our neighborhood was completely trashed by the hurricane. Disregarding the condition of his home, he was at the firehouse for weeks helping distribute food and water.

“Others first” seemed to be the cultural theme in the last quarter of 2011. I hope hurricane Irene gave us a taste of service and a big appetite to continue. Volunteering can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime. The return on your investment will be immeasurable. Visit my websites at and!

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