Volunteerism comes in all shapes and sizes—giving away your time for free

Published by Peter on

Nearly 25 years ago, the woman who would become my next boss asked me, “Why are you passionate about community involvement?”

I replied, “I’m not.”

When she answered, “Of course you are,” I had to think a minute.

I have never thought of myself as an activist.

Activists carried bullhorns and led marches, or they spent all their free time packing food at the food bank or serving meals at shelters or delivering clothes to the unhoused.

There are heroes like that, and we should value their work with profound respect.

But in that one statement, Joan recalibrated my idea of what “community involvement” looked like.

For the next 15 years I helped lead some of the largest and most comprehensive corporate volunteer programs in the country. And I did my own volunteer work, both as part of my work team but also on my own.

I still didn’t think that my volunteer work was terribly meaningful—nearly all of it centered around my kids. I was a school crossing guard. I coached youth soccer for a decade. And when my kids joined Cub Scouts, I signed on as an assistant leader.

It was a lot of time and effort, but I loved it.

My 2008 team was strong. I believe we lost the championship on penalty kicks. These kids are all in their 20s now.

Volunteering isn’t supposed to be fun, is it? It’s not really volunteer work if you enjoy it. Right?

Now that my kids are grown, my volunteer service tends more toward serving on boards and committees.

And of course the San Francisco Writers Conference. I’ve worked this conference for over a decade, in lots of roles from tech support to room helper to gofer. I love meeting and helping the attendees, supporting the speakers, and working with the other volunteers.

But again, volunteering isn’t supposed to be fun, is it? The reward is supposed to come from self-sacrifice, isn’t it?

This year I’m adding some pro bono to my generic conference volunteering. I’ll be offering free coaching sessions during the conference to anyone who’s there—attendees, speakers, staff, volunteers. First come, first served.

And I think it’s a great example of how small businesses—even solopreneurs who are still in the early, uncertain stage of businesses—can include charity and volunteerism in their everyday work.

Businesspeople can get so wrapped up in building our businesses that it’s easy to think of “community involvement” as a cost that we might do “when we get the business off the ground.”

In a way, that’s kind of like saying, “Youth coaching is something I will do when my children go off to college.”

If you run a small business, or you are starting a solo practice, it’s really not that hard to work community service into what you do.

Sometimes all it takes to change your perspective is someone who believes in you.

Coming to the writers conference? Book my time for free.

There are many professionals who are offering free consultations at the conference. When you register, look for my name among them. I’m eager to help you with whatever is on your mind.

Any topic is fine with me! I just want you to come ready to get into it.


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