Project Management

Debunking 6 Myths About Volunteering

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By Yasmina Khelifi, PMP

Are you passionate about a cause? Do you want to lend a hand? Whether you’re interested in volunteering in the project management community or using your project skills to help a non-profit, you may be unsure where to start.

As a newcomer to the volunteer world myself, I had no idea what questions to ask or what to expect. So, to help other project managers, I’m sharing six of the biggest myths and misconceptions about volunteering I’ve encountered—and the key questions to ask to make the most of your experience. 

Myth #1: Volunteering is easy. 

Volunteering often means learning new skills and delivering projects alongside people you’ve never met before. That’s why building trusting relationships is key to successful engagement in volunteer opportunities—and it’s not as simple as it may sound.

As a volunteer, you’ll likely be entering into an organization with people who have already made connections and collaborated. You’ll have to prove your worth as a member of the team. Depending on the organization and your role, some specific skills are needed. As you pursue volunteer opportunities, take the time to understand the position by asking these questions:

  • Will the volunteering be in person? Or is it virtual?
  • How many hours per week, on average, does this role require?
  • How does the team communicate? How often?
  • How is information shared among team members?
  • Who will my other teammates be?

Myth #2: Volunteering requires minimal time.

Many organizations run on volunteer work, which sometimes means a lot will be asked of you. You may even end up spending your weekends or evenings working for the organization, even if at the beginning you promised yourself you’d only work a few hours a week. Set boundaries early on to ensure that both you and the organization are getting your needs met. And ask yourself these questions first:

  • What are the actual hours and commitment required? Remember, this is volunteer work—not a second unpaid job.
  • Does this opportunity fit with your personal, professional and family life? Will it generate unwarranted frustration or stress?
  • When will meetings generally take place, on the weekends or weekday evenings?

Myth #3: Commitment is flexible.

Even if it is a volunteer opportunity, you need to commit to deliver or not. Otherwise, your colleagues will be overloaded if you jump ship with short or no notice. For example, I volunteered as a community manager for the LinkedIn group of a local community and when I replaced the former admin, 500 member requests were pending! Not fulfilling your responsibilities as a volunteer damages the association’s reputation and creates added work for other parties involved. Step up or step back!

Myth #4: Communication is simple.

In many work environments, communication isn’t always valued. Volunteering adds another layer of complexity. Volunteers often communicate with teams via emails and instant messenger. Moreover, volunteers don’t always have access to the same team members that full-time staffers enjoy. This can create misunderstandings. Communication—verbal or virtual—must be clear to cut through the static. Ask yourself these questions first:

  • What are your preferred means of communication?
  • When and how can you be contacted?
  • Is there information that you, as a volunteer, will not be privy to?

Myth #5: Only the organization will benefit.

When done well, volunteering should benefit both the organization and the volunteer. Before committing to a role, clarify your goals and how they align with the organization:

  • What can you bring to the organization?
  • What can you learn?
  • Do you want to volunteer for your ego, or to help the organization and its members? Or both?
  • What are the values of the organization? Do they align with your values? 
  • How does this activity reinforce your professional goals and values, without damaging them?

Myth #6: There’s no way out.

Life can change in an instant. Your motivation also evolves. Moving on is not a mark of shame, provided you plan your exit properly. Therefore, from the outset, you should enquire:

  • Is it a flexible position? 
  • How long should I engage?
  • What is the process to stop?

What are some lessons learned from your own volunteer experiences?

Posted by Yasmina Khelifi on: June 01, 2020 05:23 AM | Permalink

Comments (34)

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Very true, volunteering is not easy and who have already establish connections takes the lead.
Very nice explanation of the volunteer path we must make.

But I also believe that opportunities should be give to everyone otherwise I do we know they are capable, at least the less critical.

Thanks for the clarifying post.
Alexandre Costa

Thanks for sharing., very interesting.

Hi Eduin, thank you. Hope it is helpful. Stay safe, Yasmina

Hi Alexandre, thank you for your insightful comments. Volunteering is a very rewarding journey but challenging sometimes. Stay safe! Yasmina

Nice article. Unfortunately a lot of volunteers have fallen for some of those myths.

Very interesting and informative. I used to volunteer for an environmental and another for educational cause. Thanks for sharing.

Hi Rodrigo,thank you for sharing your experience. Stay safe. Yasmina

Hi Joshua thank you for your kind comment. Indeed. Stay safe, Yasmina

This is excellent article and very helpful for anyone who is interested in volunteering. I can relate to so many points in the article from my own experience as volunteer. Thank you for writing this

Excellent points Yasmina. I would add one more myth:

Volunteering is not for people who have time, but for those who have the heart.

It's nice to see an article drawing attention to volunteer work. Any thoughts on a follow up article on how to utilize PM skills for volunteer organizations/activities?

Great article Yasmina. As a life-long volunteer, I can honestly say that I have gained far more than I have given. Life does happen though, so both parties should expect change. Along the way, work together to advance the aims of the organization. Above all, have fun and enjoy volunteering!

Thank you for sharing your experience on volunteering. Many people do fall into these myths. Your article struck a cord in the world of volunteering.

In my experience with volunteering, one will have to treat any volunteer opportunity as if it is a project and not an ongoing program; One should define his/her level of volunteering, limits, and always choose the kind of volunteering opportunities that will have a defined deadline just like a project does. Many people run into a cycle of volunteering with no deadlines, no targets, and end up being exhausted after a while and regret volunteering to begin with. Another common mistake.

Hi Maysa, thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. And you are perfectly right: I am a new volunteer and I have noticed that volunteers get exhausted and frustrated. Your advice is very helpful. Stay safe. Yasmina

Hi Rami, thank you so much for your awesome comment! You made my day. Passion and hear fuel volunteers! Stay safe. Yasmina

Hi Lenka, thank you very much for your wonderful comments. I hope it will help future volunteers. Stay safe, Yasmina

Hi Tanna, thank you for your awesome comment. Yes volunteering is very rewarding, even for a newcomer like me. Stay safe, Yasmina

Hi Jessica, thank you so much for your insightful comment. I'll think about it. Stay safe! Yasmina

Great article Yasmina. I agree with Alexandre in that there is opportunity to share responsibilities with others, bring them on to the team, so that they become more responsible and we more overseeing. It is a game changer to educate and enable new volunteers. Thank you for sharing Yasmina! Cindy

Very timely article! I like the questions you posed for each myth, really helpful. Thank you for sharing your volunteer experiences

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