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“Feel Good” Volunteering versus “Impact Generating” Volunteering

by Yasemin Saib on 14th August, 2014

It is a scientifically proven fact that “volunteering offers more real happiness than any other venture in life”.

Hence, it is no wonder why so many people - of all ages, backgrounds and social statuses - love to volunteer; why so many companies nowadays offer their staff paid time off just to volunteer and why so many parents and schools encourage their children and students to volunteer during their holidays and free time.

The fact is, volunteering enriches the life of the volunteer in so many ways. It is a way of engaging all our sensory faculties and not just our wallets in the act of giving. It opens our hearts and minds to the endless possibilities of positive transformation. It also allows us to go into environments we are not usually exposed to in our daily lives to help people with whom we would usually not interact. The cases in which the volunteer was strictly a financial contributor, a volunteering experience helps forge the emotional connection to the cause they have been donating to.

When we do something good for someone else, it gives us a sense of identity and meaning; it stimulates a sense of purpose in our lives and emphasizes our power to add positive value to the ‘grand scheme of things’. The soaring feeling we get from knowing that someone else is benefiting from our time and effort not only elevates our state of happiness by unparalleled measures, it actually transforms us permanently because that experience will stay with us for life and will shape many decisions we make moving forward, personal or professional. In summary, the benefits of volunteering for the volunteer is endless and priceless!

But what about the beneficiary? How do they benefit from the volunteer’s time and effort? After all, the main outcome of volunteering should be to generate positive impact on the cause the volunteer is set out to help, right? The good news is that in many cases it does, but not always. The reality is that sometimes, we as volunteering enthusiasts become so consumed with the benefit it offers us and our families that we spend less time considering how our actions may or may not impact the causes we are set out to support. Here are a few questions a volunteer should ask themselves before embarking on a volunteering mission.  

Ultimately, these questions are meant to help trigger the answer to the fundamental question - what value does my volunteering add in generating real impact? It is very important that we undergo this introspective exercise because the last thing we want is to invest a great deal of our personal time and resources towards a volunteering mission that yields us a “feel good” experience but does not make a dent in the development of the cause we aim to serve. 

There is nothing wrong with feeling good about helping others or that our help enriches our life as much as it enriches the lives of those we are helping. Having said that, if the answers yielded by the above questions show the benefit largely skewed in our favor, then we need to take a step back and rethink our objectives. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the real reason why we wanted to volunteer in the first place and reconsider aligning our mission and objectives to generate an impactful experience for the beneficiary, before ourselves.

This is the thought that I would like to leave you with - when you set out on an impactful volunteering mission, never lose sight of the fact that happiness is a reciprocal process: the more goodness you offer to make lives of others happier, the happier you become. So let’s all go out into the world and volunteer because the positivity that it sprouts for the giver and the receiver is a contagious force that keeps on multiplying.

Happy volunteering! 

Yasemin Saib Yasemin Saib
Yasemin has 19 years of experience in non-profit management and social enterprise development, broadcast media and communications, and marketing management. As the Director of Fundraising, she builds strategic partnerships with the private and public sector organizations to generate new restricted and unrestricted fundraising initiatives for Dubai Cares. Yasemin holds a post-graduate degree in Technology for International Development from North Carolina State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of South Carolina. She also holds a Masters degree in Islamic Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, majoring in Islamic Philosophy and Sufism.
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