Monday, January 16, 2012

Volunteering as a Wise Owl

2011 is gone and volunteer organizations are contemplating what they can deliver in a 2012 that looks to be an equal economic and social challenge.  As my career began to wind down a few years back, I thought I'd try volunteering outside my previous focus on professional groups relevant to my then-working life. Us Oldies often read that we should now be 'giving back', yet many of us who are outside the now-diminishing net of fat corporate pensions have seen our savings take a beating. Our charity is of necessity now given as in-kind labour when before cash donations were the norm.

The public service has always relied in part on the efforts of community volunteers to inform its activities. With diminished revenues government is relying more than ever on unpaid help. While there are more people reaching the age when they have the time to contribute than in years past, many of us fret over spending time on potentially frustrating non-billable activities as we contemplate living beyond our nest eggs. One consequence of this is that we may exercise more care than in the past in deciding just who exactly will benefit from the windfall of our availability, especially now that the web provides a vehicle to explore the performance of potential recipients of our volunteer time.

Myself I've tried out several forms of volunteer persona for fit. The first to receive the blessing of my insights was a regional charity working to create awareness of substance abuse in high school students. While I once had a personal connection to this problem, one I'm glad to say is long over,  this proved largely unused on a board usually ignored by the charity's CEO and founder, a feature of charity boards that I hear is all too common. So I moved on to an altogether sunnier option, the board of a charity owning a key nature educational reserve in Costa Rica. Since I wasn't really likely to travel down into Caribbean swamps to see things on the front line, this proved a short-lived experiment. Next I thought let's volunteer for an association that I know well as a member so there'd be no surprises.  Invited to observe the executive committee in action I discovered a small cabal ran things with an eye to ensuring nothing happened that couldn't be accessed by public transport. As a dweller in an area without such an amenity yet one in which potential new members with the right ethnocultural creds are widespread, I had to decline.

I 'd run out of ideas until a chance conversation at a nearby country gathering with a municipal heritage employee had me recalling that I'd once been on a heritage buildings evening course and even read a few books on the subject.

One thing lead to another so a year ago I found myself being interviewed by local councillors for a spot on the Town Heritage Committee. I spotted that few members understood how the Worldwide Web would play a larger and larger role in their future success and so finally have reached a place that seems to value my professional knowledge. The whole journey has taken several years. I had thought (I suspect like many retired executives) that opportunities for real fulfillment would be legion. Wrong - it's as much hard work as finding a paying job that one likes.

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