The roots of volunteerism in America go back very far. Benjamin Franklin was perhaps one of the most prodigious volunteers in our nation's history having organized the Philadelphia volunteer fire company, a militia, circulating libraries, public hospitals, mutual insurance companies and agricultural colleges, as well as intellectual societies. Franklin saw volunteerism as each citizen's civic duty. Evidently, many agree. Nearly 63 million Americans volunteered more than 8 billion hours in 2010 according to the Corporation of National and Community Service, a federal agency that leads President Obama's "United We Serve" initiative. The value of this volunteerism was approximately $173 billion.
SEE: Are The Volunteer Corps Right For You?
There are many benefits to volunteering one's time. There are also some negatives. The purpose of this article is to address the pros and cons of volunteerism in America so let's get started.
Recognition in Your Community
When you volunteer your time in your community you gain name recognition. It exposes you to more people and expands your relationship base. You become a recognized figure in your community and that makes you feel important.
You Make a Difference
There is no better feeling than the feeling that you made a difference. I like to call it the "George Bailey Effect." We all want to feel our lives have meaning. Volunteerism satisfies that empty feeling we sometimes have about our very existence. When our volunteerism makes a difference, it simply makes us feel like we matter in life.
You Get to Meet New People
Volunteerism allows you to meet new people and gain new relationships. These relationships can turn into life-long friendships or business acquaintances. If you have had difficulty making new relationships, volunteerism may be the perfect remedy.
Volunteerism is a perfect way to highlight your skillset. When you do a good job, people notice and that very often translates into business opportunities. People want to do business with people they know, like and trust. What better way to make that happen than volunteering.
I knew an individual who did so much volunteering that his business began to suffer. His wife gave him some religion and before you knew it he had resigned his position from several organizations. There is a serious time commitment required when you volunteer. Oftentimes your reward for doing an outstanding job is another committee assignment or request for your skills by some other organization. If you are not the type to say "no" you could find yourself in over your head in terms of time, and this could negatively affect your job, business or your family life.
I have seen firsthand volunteers nearly come to blows. When you volunteer you have to deal with people. Some people are pleasant to deal with and some are not. When you find yourself working with individuals you do not like or cannot get along with it can be a very unpleasant experience.
The Power Play
Some individuals get carried away with their leadership status within some nonprofit organizations. They use their status as a means of fulfilling some need for power within their life, often to the detriment of other volunteers. In most cases these individuals do not last long, but while they are around they make life difficult for other volunteers.
The Bottom Line
Today's volunteerism manifests itself in many forms. Parent-teacher organizations, boy scouts and girl scouts, blood donation, political campaigns, the preservation of historical landmarks, fire companies, emergency services, religious organizations, business organizations and many civic groups all rely on volunteerism for their very survival.