Why do something for nothing?
Why complete actual work without any actual monetary gain?
Why do anything for anyone?
One quarter or more of all Americans volunteer[i]. Numbers wonks can follow the link at the bottom of this post to read the official February 2013 report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Yes, volunteerism is important enough to Americans and America that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – which also give us the Monthly Unemployment Rate, that almighty economic indicator – actually studies and counts who does what for nothing.
Why bother to volunteer or why bother to keep track? I’ll focus on the former – the numbers wonk who has already followed the link at the bottom can contemplate the latter.
Opportunity to volunteer envelopes us. You can go global – military service, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps – or more local. My father was a volunteer fireman and EMT before he retired. My mother volunteered at my elementary school and as a Girl Scout leader. In high school, I joined “Service Club,” which was my first point of contact to volunteer in the community.
It’s been 25 years since I first helped pour Hi-C into Dixie cups at a Christmas party for kids, and delivered a Thanksgiving basket to a family. As an adult “volunteer,” I’ve pulled weeds, organized holiday gift-buying for economically struggling families, delivered a lot of heavy canned goods to food cupboards, packed hygiene kits for homeless shelters, and co-organized collections of school supplies, backpacks, coats and other winter gear for local families.
Many hands make light work.
What if I didn’t do any of it? Someone else would. Who is someone else if it isn’t me? What if every youth sports coach, every Scouting leader, every person who ever formed a team for a charity walk, every non-paid firefighter, every animal rescuer, every community’s churches and civic groups doing everything from championing literacy to picking up trash – what if every one of those people suddenly said, Nah, someone else can do it.
All 100% of us would be in trouble.
Also, a zombie apocalypse might be soon to follow because I can’t imagine a world where no one volunteers their time, talent and resources. Because no matter how much a person may protest that they won’t do things for no money, they do. (You know you do.)
Altruism is real[ii], though I realize the debate continues to rage about whether being kind and doing good is a true human trait, or learned behavior (and whether it has an evolutionary correlation to how we began, or how we’ll end). Discuss amongst yourselves.
As I begin to dip a toe into a more mature adulthood (i.e.: middle age), my volunteering has also matured. I still do the mind-clearing grocery bag-packing once a month at a local food cupboard, but I have also volunteered my very busy mind to other organizations who need team players, conceptual thinkers, and good writers.
My volunteering is important to me, to feel like a part of my various communities. And I suppose I should admit that my efforts aren’t “for nothing.” I meet people, I am a part of my communities, I try to make a difference.
Sometimes, I meet someone who remembers me the next time they need to hire a writer. Sometimes, I meet someone who remembers me as the lady who gets her church to donate mountains of toilet paper and soap during election season. Which is more important to me?
I’m not telling. Go out and volunteer at a couple of different places then tell me which is more important to you.