Written by Dan LaValla
Friday, 20 September 2013 00:00
When I was growing up, my father was a volunteer in several non-profit and community organizations. He instilled in me that civic duty is the responsibility of every citizen and that volunteers are essential to a healthy community and a means of promoting the safety and moral development of the children in a community. He also repeatedly taught me that volunteering is seldom convenient, especially when you are raising a family; therefore, it requires intentionality and being disciplined with one’s time management. As a result, these are values that I have adopted in my own life and am trying to pass along to my two sons.
I have a friend (we now live in different states) who lives by a completely opposing set of principles which is reflected in one of his often quoted replies whenever I attempted to get him involved or recruit him for various organizations and events, “Volunteering is for suckers.” His principle is based on two personal corollaries: 1.) Anything worth doing is worth doing for money. 2.) While some volunteers are sometimes acknowledged for their service, all volunteers are guaranteed to receive aggravation and criticism as the rewards for their good deeds.
Unfortunately, there is truth in his second point, but it is not a good argument against volunteering, it is simply a fact of life. It is true that the less engaged you are with other people, the less of a chance others can aggravate you. Also, the less you attempt to accomplish anything (whether for pay or on a volunteer basis), the less of a chance you will be criticized. Thus, the only way to avoid criticism or to be less aggravated is to isolate yourself.
Money should not be the only motivator in life, for when it is, it can lead to greater dissatisfaction (Eccl. 5:10) or become the avenue to many other evils (I Tim. 9-11). There are plenty of personal and societal benefits provided by volunteerism. For example, many scientific (medical, psychological, and sociological) studies show that people who are generous with their time and money are generally happier, healthier and live longer.
Further, communities with higher volunteer participation rates benefit from what social scientists call “social capital” or the assets, resources, and benefits associated with the network of social connections that exist between people in a community that encourages and creates mutually advantageous social cooperation. Robert Putnam explains it this way, “…a well-connected individual in a poorly connected society is not as productive as a well-connected individual in a well-connected society. And even a poorly connected individual may derive some of the spillover benefits from living in a well-connected community.”
Unfortunately, volunteering is not an esteemed value in American Society and is on the decline in our civic, political, and religious organizations, including churches throughout the U.S. This fact is well documented in Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Putnam discusses how technology, two career families, suburban sprawl, television and the pursuit of entertainment, and changes in generational and societal values in America are related to the decline in volunteerism. He explains further that decreased participation in political, religious, and civic organizations is strongly associated with decreased civility in a society, increased crime, a lack of trust between neighbors, and greater disparities between the rich and poor.
Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.