When it comes to giving back, many of us have pre-conceived ideas about the who, what, when, how and why of available volunteer roles. Let’s take a look at some of the more common misconceptions and set things straight.
MYTH: The only people who volunteer are seniors
The face of volunteerism is changing. In general, younger Canadians are more likely to volunteer than older Canadians. Over one-half of people aged 15 to 24 (58 per cent) and 35 to 44 (54 per cent)), and close to one-half of those aged 25 to 34 (46 per cent)), reported doing volunteer work. In comparison, pre-retirees aged 55 to 64 had a volunteer rate of 4 per cent) in past studies and seniors recorded a rate of 36 per cent). Worth noting, Gen Zers are some of the most socially conscious people out there with passions that are focused on issues that both reflect more traditional values and caring for the greater good.
MYTH: You don’t need any qualifications or skills.
One of the most common misconceptions about volunteering is that there are no qualifications needed to do the tasks. While you might not require extensive or specific experience, most volunteer opportunities need people who have a particular skill set or affinity.
If there’s a need for tutors, for example, in a certain community, you may need to have basic knowledge of teaching methods as well as competency on the subject matter.
MYTH: It’s obvious what the needs of the community will be before you get there.
To paraphrase a famous movie line, volunteering is “like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” And that’s the best part of the experience! Learning new things and meeting people from various walks of life can enrich your outlook. Even if you do your research on an organization beforehand, there is nothing like experiencing their mission first-hand. That’s where flexibility, ability to adapt to changing circumstances and roles and the willingness to try different things like microvolunteering come in.
A side note: Be humble and modest. Know that you might not have the answers to people’s needs and that your ideas might not be the best solution. Listen and learn.
MYTH: You can only volunteer if you are a student or a fresh graduate.
Students and fresh graduates will certainly learn a lot when they volunteer, but they are not the only ones who can (and do) volunteer. Anyone can help. In fact, demographic millions of volunteers were baby boomers, veterans, Generation Xers.
As long as you’re willing to help, you can never be too old (or too young, for that matter) to volunteer. It’s all about finding the right organization you’re passionate about and where you can be of most help.
MYTH: You can’t afford to take the time off work.
Volunteering doesn’t have to happen during standard work hours or at the same time each week. You can offer your service on weekends or evenings. If you’re still working full-time or part-time, your employer may have hours allocated for giving back to the community. (Fun fact: volunteering actually makes you feel like you have more time in your day!)
MYTH: You don’t need to work hard because you are just there to help.
As Philip Stanhope said, “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” Volunteering for a good cause is awesome, but only if you’re committed and passionate. You’re not helping if you are unreliable or inconsistent in your service. So consider your time and length of commitment before embarking on your next volunteer adventure.
MYTH: You will change the world.
Doing your part in helping the world become a better place is admirable, but you have to be realistic and patient. You may not immediately see the results of your actions. Yet, your small contribution still ultimately impacts the big picture. And no matter what, by volunteering you’ll be able to help make at least one person’s life a little better. That’s a reward in itself!
MYTH: You have to be selfless to volunteer.
When you enjoy helping good causes, you feel happier, healthier, and confident. And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Improved mental and physical health are two great reasons to volunteer.
MYTH: Volunteering is dirty work no one will do.
Sure, sometimes people paint school walls, clean up parks and plant gardens, but they also help make critical decisions as board members or grant reviewers. Professionals, like engineers, doctors, and scientists along with homemakers, PSW’s and office workers have skills to share.
MYTH: You have to be present to make a difference.
Virtual volunteering—like online tutoring programs—connects people to organizations and their beneficiaries. United Way Worldwide has helped companies give their employees the ability to write a note of encouragement to students, veterans or other groups who need support.
If you’re feeling lonesome or depressed, volunteering can put you in touch with people in your community. Or if you’re eager to learn a new professional skill or flex an existing one by putting it into practice, skilled volunteering can help you do that. Whatever your reason, if your intentions are honest, you’ll make good things happen.