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Don Stedman,  Past President

When you retire, and if you have you probably know this, everyone thinks you have nothing to do now so you should be happy to work for them – and for free.  After all, “Retirees are the backbone of the volunteer industry.” And, they think you should be available on the spur of the moment for whatever needs doing.

True enough, now that you have retired, you do have more time to do what you want to do; even if, once in a while, it’s nothing. At least your time may be more flexible than it was with whatever you did before.

Maybe you didn’t retire on purpose. Maybe you would rather not be retired at all. In any event, you are someone marked as an available hand, for free, to do whatever. Well, you probably should volunteer anyway. It’s a good thing for you to do and people do need help, especially community non-profits with needs to fill and few resources to hire people to meet the needs. However, when you are asked to volunteer and you do consider it, it is very important for all concerned that you maintain control of what you volunteer to do, when you do it, and how long you keep it up. Let me explain.

Many people in the community with volunteer needs haven’t carefully planned what they really need from volunteers or how to describe to potential volunteers what they need and want. You can help the asking group and you can help yourself if you keep several guidelines and cautions in mind before you accept an invitation to volunteer.

Here are some GUIDELINES. Be able to answer “Yes” to all these questions or don’t take the job.

  • Is it clear what the organization asking for your help wants you, as a volunteer, to do?
  • Is the activity well planned?
  • Is it a need, an activity or goal that you personally support and admire?
  • Do you have the interest and the ability to do the tasks required of volunteers?
  • Do you have the amount and schedule of time to commit? Will you show up, stay for the duration and be reliable?
  • Can you be a good follower and not try to take over? (Unless asked.)

And, here are some Special Cautions:

  • The gig should not be open ended. Get and give time commitments.
  • Your work should mean something – i.e. somebody really needs the product of your efforts.
  • Don’t volunteer just because a friend is putting the bite on you. Sometimes urgent needs infringe on good friendships.

The Research Triangle region is full of non-profits, service agencies, schools, causes, and advocacy groups. In today’s economy, fund raising is especially tough.  So support for staff workers is at an all time low.  Volunteers are needed now more than ever and the pool of retirees is expanding.

Volunteering should be part of your new “work plan”.  I strongly encourage it. It’s healthier for you to be busy and feel needed. It’s good to be part of a team. Your “encore” period of development should help you grow, not age. It should add to your feelings of productivity and worth. Volunteering is a good thing, but plan it like you plan the rest of your life.

All of this is probably intuitive. But, I have found that if you don’t approach volunteering in a clear and planful way, you probably won’t turn out to be of much help to anybody, including yourself.