When asked why you volunteer, what comes to mind? It can be a tough question to answer; some of us give our time to different organizations for a variety of reasons. You might be motivated by:
- passion for the mission
- personal connection to the organization
- the desire to be part of something bigger than yourself
- gaining professional experience
- increase in self-esteem
- gaining leadership skills
- getting to know your local community
As we look deeper into why people volunteer and what motivates them, it’s important to mention one reason that may be immediately overlooked: for some, it’s a deeply patriotic act. Not to be confused with civic duties, such as jury duty, which is a social responsibility for those who are registered to vote and drive. Rather, an act that in some small way helps make our country a better place for everyone. While it’s important to point out that the act of volunteering is in and of itself politically neutral, there are those for whom volunteering is connected to their love of country. Regardless of motivation, volunteering at the smallest local or national of levels are ways to improve our communities, and better communities are the building blocks for making a better country.
I can’t think of many things that are more emblematic of our country than volunteering. Benjamin Franklin, the man of so many American firsts, started the first volunteer fire department in 1736. It’s safe to say it stuck; more than 70% of firefighters today are volunteers. Ladies Aid Societies took hold during the Civil War, and Andrew Carnegie set the course for modern American philanthropy by telling his wealthy peers they would be disgraced if they died without giving their surplus money to charities. Today, there are more than 1.5 million registered in the U.S. with over 62.8 million volunteers.
One of the first nationwide efforts to coordinate volunteers was in response to the Great Depression, including work by Volunteers of America. The first Volunteer Bureau was founded in Minneapolis, MN in 1919 and became part of the Volunteer Center National Network, which today reaches 170 million people in thousands of cities across the nation.¹
The next time someone asks you why you volunteer, think about what motivates you to keep giving. You might have a new reason to add to your list!