What’s in it for you? – an analysis of volunteer mentality and a slight mental breakdown

Gabrielle Klemt - 2A Geological
Posted on: March 25, 2017

It was recently brought to my attention that if certain people had more incentive, they would volunteer more for things. For example, I was telling my friend how at one of the more recent events I volunteered at this term, they were giving away pencil sharpeners shaped like light bulbs and they said, “Had I known there would be free things, I would have volunteered too.” Well, on hearing this I got indignant because you don’t volunteer for the free things you get, you volunteer for…?

What, why do you volunteer? Why do I volunteer so much of my very limited free time to, for example, play with little children and K’nex? It certainly isn’t because I like kids particularly, or because I need to beef up my resume; most of the stuff I do doesn’t even make it to that tailored piece of BS (which apparently I’m doing wrong as I am perpetually unemployed).

Then I got to thinking, when have I not been rewarded in some way for the work I do “pro bono” (a word which here means donating my time and brain in the effort of some event or other)? If there isn’t free food involved in the event, there might be food later, coupons, gift cards, free knick-knacks, t-shirts… I actively got to trying to think back to an event I hadn’t been “paid” for in some way, and I couldn’t do it! Do I, someone with fairly high principles, only volunteer for things because of what I know I’ll get out of it?! Surely that can’t be, so when I sign a volunteer sheet is it out of a sense of obligation to the person running the event or the need to prove myself to people?

I recently volunteered to be part of a research study when a master’s student came to talk to my elective class – I really had to use the washroom but didn’t want to be impolite and leave before she handed out the sign-up sheet. I waited until she passed the sheet around, threw down my contact info and ran for the door. I was also the first person she handed the sheet to and I didn’t want to set a bad precedent for the class, so down went my name. But most of the time, I sign up for events online, ones that I see posted on the EngSoc Facebook or mailing list or one of the other mailing lists I’m part of. Sometimes I volunteer for things because I’m flattered someone would even ask me, which is why I volunteered for many of the things I did in high school.

At this point, I’m stressed out, why in Pod’s name do I volunteer? Clearly I must be a terrible person with no morals: not once was the first reason I volunteered “to give back to the community”, that was always just a by-product of the volunteering! Even when I volunteer to fly small cadets in gliders I do it so I can fly for free! So in order to appease myself, I took to Google.

It turns out, as so often happens when you turn to the Internet, that I am not alone. My “sources” informed me that people volunteer for anything from paying debts to meeting people to getting free stuff. You don’t have to have a “higher purpose” which is a relief for me, but also a good lesson in letting myself get carried away with small things, like why volunteer. And it also turns out that you get good feelings from volunteering and many people who do it will look to do it more because of the way it makes them feel to do something useful, which I found applied to me too!

So yeah, I volunteer for a lot of reasons, but hey, there is also an underlying feeling of goodwill that sucks me in every time as well. Who knew. Well gotta fly, I have some more articles to finish so I don’t feel bad when IW buys me pizza when I help out on production weekends.

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