An open letter to volunteers

Dear Volunteers,


It’s time to talk about a few issues… to set some things straight… to clear the air. You might be brand-new to the world of volunteerism, or you may have been contributing your blood, sweat and tears for decades. In either case, I can’t let you go on any longer without knowing the truth about a few things. So I beg you to read on, even if you think you already know the answers, even if you don’t really care what the answers are.  Here goes.


Volunteering isn’t all about you.   Whether you read books in your child’s classroom, pick up litter in your community, serve others through a local church, or deliver flowers in a hospital, what you do can be done by anyone. I’m glad you’ve chosen to give your time and talents to volunteer, but if you’re solely focused on what you can get out of your experience, you’re probably not the best volunteer. I know you have amazing ideas and think you know how to fix all of our problems. And I want to hear about them. But if I choose not to implement your plan, don’t get offended. I might be able to see a broader picture of our organization than you can, and it’s my job to make sure our plans fit our vision.  I hope you’re not volunteering just to get on my good side, to boost your resume, or to get bonus points with your future mother-in-law.  Because volunteering isn’t about you- it’s about the people you’re serving.


Volunteering IS all about you. I’m not going to lie – I couldn’t do it without you! You are the life blood of our organization. Why? Because you choose to spend your time and energy furthering our vision. You could choose to spend your time in a hundred other ways. But you’ve chosen us. I want you to understand that it’s not all about what I can get from you. I can see a thousand ways that you are going to benefit from this experience. Your eyes may be opened to think about your circumstances in a different way, you may be challenged to show compassion to someone you never dreamed of empathizing with, you will definitely grow and mature.  I want to make this an amazing experience for you, because volunteering isn’t just about everyone else – it’s about you!


You’re not perfect. You might forget that you signed up to help this week, or you might get an invitation to the lake that is much more inviting than sweating in the hot sun while you help build a house. You’re going to make poor choices as a volunteer, and I know that. I’ve already forgiven you, and I want to help you grow. If I correct you, please don’t be offended. Accept it in the spirit of love that it’s given. Remember – this is all about you, and I want to help you become a better person through your volunteering.  I don’t expect you to be perfect, but I do expect you to be willing to grow and change from your experiences.


I’m not perfect, either. Somewhere along the way you will be asked to do something you don’t want to do, to take a different shift, or adjust to a decision that you don’t agree with. Bottom line – I’m going to do things that you don’t agree with.  Guess what? That’s normal. Because I’m normal. I’m a person, just like you, and sometimes I make poor decisions, sometimes I am selfish and look out for my own interests, sometimes I lose sight of the vision, too. Instead of pointing out my flaws, forgive me for my flaws. And come alongside of me and ask me how you can help me.  I don’t want to be put on a pedestal – I want you to accept me as I am and choose to follow me anyway.


I want more from you. I know you don’t want to fully commit right away. You might not end up liking making copies for your child’s teacher, or serving meals to homeless, or leading a room of 3 year olds at church. So you try to protect yourself from disappointment or a bad experience, and you only commit to helping occasionally. It’s ok – I still appreciate you as a volunteer! But I want more from you. I want you to allow yourself to really be wrecked by what you see when you volunteer – the 9 year old who struggles to read, the terminal patient who needs someone to talk to, the middle school boys student group who needs someone to look up to.  I want you to be there consistently because you’ve come to understand that you matter to someone else. I want you to fall in love with what you’re doing so much that you dream about it, think about it when you’re not here, and plan around it.  I want so much more from you, because…


I want more for you. You might not be able to see what I can see. I see that you have the potential to become a great leader. I see that you have a chance to change the lives of those around you. I see that you have the opportunity to take your life in a direction very different from where you’re going now.   I see that you can accomplish far more than you imagine possible.  I want you to experience all that you can through volunteering.


Volunteering is so much more than it seems on the surface. It’s more than a guilted “yes” to help. It’s more than a time-demanding, soul-sucking event. It’s more than helping a single person – it’s about changing the world, one person at a time. Volunteering is more than you. And volunteering is more than me.


– Your volunteer leader


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