The Benefits of Dedicating Yourself to One Cause

Measuring Impact / Friday, September 26th, 2014

These past weeks, between the podcast and several blogposts, we’ve had some highly meaningful discussions about ways that we can recruit dedicated volunteers to our causes. I can’t thank all of you enough for getting involved in these conversations – I’ve absolutely loved being a part of it, and have learned a great deal from your involvement. If you’vebeen reading, but have been shy about commenting – please don’t be! We’d love to have your voice on here, or on the podcast.

Okay – so on Monday, I shot you a guide for the types of companies that I’ve seen offering paid volunteer programs. I’m hopeful this will serve as a resource for you as you connect with area businesses to recruit long term volunteers. I want to add to that conversation today by sharing a powerful philosophy that we can use to empower our volunteers. As I mentioned in this article, businesses can provide an awesome pool of volunteers that are both dedicated, and paid by their employer. But oftentimes, this won’t be enough. As volunteer coordinators, we also need to convince people that dedicating themselves to our cause will make them part of a movement that is much larger than any of us. If we fail to do this, it will be a challenge to recruit volunteers for the long haul. So, I want to share with you my personal philosophy on this as a way of providing you with another story you can share with prospective volunteers:

Over the years, I’ve been pretty involved with community service… I devoted a year of my life to AmeriCorps, worked for 3 years at my college’s community service office, served indigenous farmers in Peru, and have been involved with Habitat for Humanity and World Relief for a number of years now.

But, despite this seemingly solid record of giving back – I have to admit that I really never felt focused in my volunteering until I recently chose to commit exclusively and regularly to World Relief . Before I really dedicated myself to one cause, I felt fairly scattered in my attempts at serving my community. The simple reality was that the pressures in my life (and I really didn’t have pressures beyond the ‘normal’ pressures we all face) made it highly difficult to give my all to the multiple causes I was involved in. By dedicating myself to just one cause, I’ve been able to serve families more deeply, understand my cause more fully, and enjoy a much richer experience at the non-profit I volunteer with.

I cannot deny that my experiences volunteering at many places were extremely powerful and important for me. In fact, it’s really the only way I was able to zero in on my central cause. In the long term, however, I think we need to be focused on bringing in recurring volunteers because this is the only way to truly transform our communities. I know that sounds like a difficult task, but I truly believe that by focusing the efforts of our volunteers, we can reshape volunteering. I’ll give you an example – about a year ago, I decided that I was going to focus my 5 hours serving each week (I think just about everyone should have 3-5 hours of volunteering each week, but that’s another topic for another day…) on just one organization – World Relief. World Relief helps incoming refugees acclimate to life in the U.S. The reality is, the number of families coming far exceeds the capacity of World Relief’s support staff, so they need volunteers to help families navigate tasks such as renting an apartment, grocery shopping, and making appointments. For refugees thrust into a strange country because of circumstances beyond their control, even the small things become daunting. I knew I could help, so I work with the same family each week. I teach them English, help them navigate appointments, and generally make sure they aren’t lost in a system they don’t understand…

See, the key here is, I’m building a relationship of trust and deep friendship with them. Because I only focus on them, we can really get into our English lessons or just go to a cultural outing on a Friday night. Again, it’s not more than 3-5 hours every other week, but its focused, it’s deliberate, and I will be a part of their lives for the foreseeable future. I know in my heart I’ll make a far deeper, far more meaningful impact in their lives than through a one-time service event.

What if we all did this? What if everyone had one cause they devoted five hours (and heck, while I’m at it, 10% of their resources) to each week? We could change our country! Every kid struggling to read could have a reading partner every week who, get this, wouldn’t disappear!! No refugee family would have to arrive to the U.S. only to be defeated by systems they simply do not understand. Most importantly, this would do more to bridge the gap between races, between the rich and the poor, between refugee and resident than just about anything else out there.

5 hours. 1 cause that has meaning for you. Enough to change the world.

How can the above help us as we try to motivate volunteers to commit for the long-term?