Hospitals are using volunteers to help the patients. Image by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig via Flickr Creative Commons.

The Spirit of Volunteering

By Ruth Gadebusch

Last month, I used this column to write about trials and tribulations of volunteering, just how our overloaded lives were affecting and being affected by volunteering. Arguably, my timing might have been ill-chosen because the holiday season brings out the most volunteers of the year. However, the point is that volunteering is needed for the entire year.

Particularly our social service agencies benefit from the spirit of the holiday season of Thanksgiving through Christmas including other holidays of the month. Alas, the need is throughout the year. Just as merchants in some segments hope to make sufficient profits to carry the rest of the year, the agencies hope to collect enough, be it money or service, to continue the entire year. It isn’t just the tangible gifts that are needed, but there is always the hope that the once a year volunteer will be so inspired as to give more time and, eventually, their money throughout the year.

Time is valuable and necessary but likewise are dollars. All too often that money is treated as more valuable because it is measurable. We can see, feel and count one thin dime! These days, our mailboxes—both “snail” and electronic—are filled with requests. If one fails to reply s/he is likely to receive a second or third request. Some organizations attempt to lay guilt for not responding to such a needed cause. This technique must work for some, but for me I am likely to cross that charity off permanently.

Simple ignoring does not get the message across, much less if a token gift was ever made. Even among competing charities there is likely to be an exchange of names. In other words, there simply is no end to the pleas. The various “do not contact” lists seem to have little effect. They do not apply to charities or political requests, and from experience I can testify that there is little consequence for commercial calls. Some charities offer products as enticement or businesses offer a percentage to a charity. All I can say regarding those is to beware.

Even more to be avoided are those many fund-raising efforts that pay more, much more, to the fund-raisers than to the designated charity. At least I suppose they give employment to the solicitors as well as those employed by the so-called charity. I say “so-called” because all too often in such cases we find the charity to be opulent living for its employees rather then the announced cause it ostensibly is helping.

Then there are the outright fraud schemes that attempt to take advantage of the spirit of the season. Of course, they operate all year but seem to proliferate at this time of year. They function by preying on the vulnerable saying the victim has violated some obscure law. Then there are still those who fall for the old bit that you have inherited some grand and glorious money provided you pay a small fee for some obscure purpose. Worse yet are those that seek to convince someone that a grandchild needs immediate help or a friend has been robbed in some big city. I am amazed that so many still fall for such ploys.

I seem to have diverged from my intent to encourage volunteering but perhaps not. All the above simply says to be careful that your valuable time and hard-earned cash is actually used to benefit a genuine community need, that the efforts of your passion simply go where it was intended. Taxes cannot fulfill all the needs of the society. We all benefit from volunteer contributions. Perhaps most of all is the good feeling emanating from having helped a fellow/sister human. This nation is better because of all that volunteers do, not because we must but because we can, because we care enough to make a difference.

*****

Ruth Gadebusch is a veteran and a community activist, a former board member of the Fresno Unified School District and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education

  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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