Having a startup company sounds exciting and sexy. If I were younger and a dude, I might find myself cruising in a hoody and baggy jeans, playing the cool nerd card. I’d daydream about an old warehouse converted into a hip office space, where I’d skateboard from the beanbag conference room to the kombucha bar. But I’m not. I’m a middle-aged woman with kids, a husband, a mortgage, and I drink my coffee black. Having a startup is a roller coaster of highs and lows with plenty of stomach-churning moments. Some of the highest high moments come from my meetings with people who are dedicated to helping their children, their communities, and their organizations. I get to hear their concerns, their frustrations, their passion, and their joys first-hand. Meeting them reminds me that despite the daily vitriol of the warring talking heads, our country is filled with kind and caring people.
Like every good startup worth its salt, ours is intended to solve a problem. Anecdotally, as volunteers ourselves, we realized how difficult it was to find people who were willing to raise their hand and commit to being a volunteer leader—not just bringing the cupcakes (and don’t misread us, that is important too especially if they’re good), but a leader…whether that meant chairing a fundraiser, being a committee head, a room parent, or a team parent. So why is it so difficult to find these folks?
First of all, it’s important to recognize that this isn’t a local issue; it’s a national issue. Take a quick study of The Bureau of Labor and Statistics data on volunteering and you will see that volunteering is on the decline in the United States. It’s not dire, but it is clearly on a downward trend. Dig a little deeper, and you will see that organizations with deep roots in American volunteerism (think Rotary International, the Elks, Assistance League, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts) have also suffered from declining membership over recent years.
Why the decline?
There is much speculation, but no single definitive answer. We believe that all of the following play a roll:
- More women working leaving little less time for volunteering;
- Online communities which give people a sense of community/belonging/networking without needing to attend weekly or monthly meetings;
- People relocating more frequently yielding more shallow connections to their communities;
- Kids having too many activities leaving less time for parents to volunteer;
- The rise of youth club sports…again leaving less time for parents to volunteer due to weekend tournament travel.
Let’s take a look at women in the workforce. According to the US Department of Labor Blog, 70% of women work, and 75% of those work full-time. And check this one out: The percentage of mothers who are primary or sole earners in households with children under the age of 18 is now a whopping 40%! Compare this to 1960, when that number was just 11%. That whole advertising campaign from my childhood about bringing home the bacon, frying it up in a pan, and never, never letting you forget you’re a man may have been true, but how in the devil does that leave time for volunteering?!
And yet, queue the chorus of angels, women still do manage to volunteer. It is women with children who still volunteer at the highest rate of any group. At PlanHero, our job is to make it easier for them to do so. We ferret out as much inefficiency as we can. Another alarming statistic is how many working women with children under age 18 always feel rushed. That number is a staggering 40% according to a Pew Research study a few years back.
So why volunteer if you’re always feeling rushed? For some, they may feel they’re supposed to, but for most, we believe, there are other reasons. Though much of the news we hear is focused on how polarized America is, by getting involved in volunteer work, a person can instead focus on how we come together so beautifully for those in need. We are a country and community that wants to help others pull themselves out of tough situations. We want to see the elderly enjoying hot, nutritious meals after a lifetime of working. We want to help ambitious students who are working two part-time jobs make it through college. We want all of our community’s youth to have exposure to enriching programs like art and theater in addition to the three R’s. We want the abused wife to be counseled and supported as she finds a way to change her situation and the trajectory of her children’s lives.
By donating our time, our wisdom, and/or our dollars, we become part of our great volunteering ethos that dates back to the creation of our country and to founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin. Recall that Franklin was the father of the volunteer firefighters, the first public libraries, and even the Junto Club. Although the Junto Club included intellectual debate, members also asked themselves questions like, “Do you think of any thing at present, in which the Junto may be serviceable to mankind? To their country, to their friends, or to themselves?”
Our forefathers didn’t have the science then, but perhaps they implicitly knew that it is good for you to volunteer. Recent research has confirmed that volunteering brings with it discernable health benefits. Feeling depressed? Volunteer! In fact, according to a BMC Public Health study published online July 11, 2017:
Research has found that participation in voluntary services is significantly predictive of better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, happiness, lower depressive symptoms, psychological distress, and mortality and functional inability.
With the new school year upon us and our children back in their classrooms, we challenge you, whether male or female, to endeavor into something new as well. Seek out a local nonprofit whose mission resonates with you. Roll up your sleeves and get a little uncomfortable. Raise your hand at back-to-school night and commit to being a committee chairperson. You’ll soon find that you are receiving far more than you’re giving.
From our end, we’re confident that our Signup Tool and/or Team Tool will help make the job more efficient for you. And we’ll continue barreling down our roadmap to bring you more tools to free up more time for you, your family, and your community.
Tell us what you’re up to! What are you doing in your community?