Volunteer With Passion, Not Obligation, to Make a Difference — Learn Patient Advocacy

When I was younger, I thought people volunteered for organizations or causes because they wanted to change the world. But as the years have passed, I’ve come to realize while it may be true for some, the majority of us are volunteering out of a sense of obligation or guilt — if I don’t do it who will?

How many times have you volunteered because you were pressured into it? A friend or colleague wore you down or made you feel obligated to give of your time. Maybe there weren’t enough board members to make a quorum. Or the school fundraiser didn’t have enough volunteers to run the activities.

As a responsible member of the community, there’s no getting around volunteering out of obligation. But when looking at how you spend the majority of your volunteer hours, and where you want to make a true difference, you need to ensure you’re volunteering with passion not obligation.

So, what’s the difference? Trust me, you’ll know when you’re volunteering out of passion. It’s when you’re excited to attend meetings, give of your time and are willing to go the extra mile. But even in these situations, it’s important to check-in with yourself at least once a year to ensure you’re still passionate about your role.

Passion brings about change

I’ll give an example of my own volunteer journey. As an advocate and mom of an autistic child, I was becoming increasingly more frustrated with the lack of supports in the public school system.

Having spoken at our provincial legislature a number of times on this issue, and attended parent advisory council meetings at our school, I knew more needed to be done. We had to bring parents together, share our stories, and advocate collectively for much needed change.

I co-founded a Parents for Inclusive Education (PIE) committee at our local school district. I was passionate about helping other families navigate supports, have a safe place to cry or vent, while having ongoing dialogue with school district staff.

This passion drove me to take courses to better understand the needs of these kids and what simple changes could help. It included getting light covers in classrooms, creating a sensory room in the school and slowly starting to shift the mindset into understanding the gifts students with disabilities bring versus focusing on their challenges.

I loved seeing new faces coming to our monthly meetings who finally had a place to ask questions, learn or just listen. I was energized about the changes that were happening — although slowly. And most importantly, I loved how it helped me grow on my personal journey of supporting my child.

Beware of obligation flags

Committing to annual check-ins of my volunteer time, I saw that the committee that was formed out of passion had slowly evolved into an obligation.

How did this happen? I began to realize the change takes time mantra was too frequently being used as an excuse for not moving forward on commitments that had been made.

A promised communications strategy to help parents and caregivers understand terminology and supports for kids with disabilities had stalled. Fourteen months after its approval from the board of trustees, there were still none of the promised resources.

Add to this falling literacy, numeracy and graduation rates for kids with disabilities and the news kept getting worse.

While we had made changes with the low hanging fruit, the real change was stuck in bureaucracy, competing priorities and unmet promises. This had taken its toll on me and I was hanging on to my volunteer role out of a sense of obligation, not passion.

Recharge and regroup

Taking my own advice, I stepped away from this committee. I knew the best way to keep the momentum going was to having someone leading the charge who was fueled by passion.

I took the time needed to recharge my batteries after years of fighting the fight. Once I’d had the rest I required, I re-evaluated my passion.

Yes, I was still passionate about advocating for kids with disabilities in the education system. I also saw the provincial and national trends about decreased supports and increased needs for these students. And how, thanks to COVID, many of these students are falling further behind their peers in key academic areas.

This time of recharging and regrouping helped me create a new plan to volunteer my time with passion. I’m now looking at how to raise the profile of kids with disabilities at a provincial level. Instead of volunteering for one organization, I’m lending my voice to amplify others or personalize the message.

Minimizing obligation

Now this doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped volunteering for school field trips, baking cupcakes for the bake sale or the other obligation-based volunteering that comes with being a mom or community member. Rather, by ensuring I’m more protective of my time and energy, the obligation volunteering commitments are minimal. And not nearly as exhausting.

I encourage you to review your volunteer commitments and see which ones are passion based and which are due to obligation. In this review, think of what would fuel your passion. It doesn’t need to be traditional volunteering, like sitting on a board or committee. Rather, it could be writing a blog, emailing elected officials, or lending your expertise to an organization on an as-needed basis.

The idea is to ensure you’re fueling your passion while making sure your obligation volunteering doesn’t suck up your time, energy and burn out you out. After all, the world needs more of your passion.

Originally published at https://learnpatientadvocacy.com on February 7, 2023.



Changmaker + communications expert

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store