A great amount of validated research proves that volunteering is good for both our health and our longevity. But unfortunately only about one in four people in retirement (or 27% of those over 65) actually volunteer in any given year. Then a week or so ago I had a zoom chat with some friends, all women who are retired, and for the most part none of volunteered or even wanted to. Each were healthy, smart (if I do say so myself) and came out of advanced creative professional occupations before retiring. Plus, I know that they are all readers so surely they are aware of the benefits attributed to regular volunteering? Naturally, that got me wondering why. What would keep any of us from volunteering when it is so beneficial to us? Here are five things I think stand in the way.
#1 If you google the question the first answer that comes up is that people claim they don’t have enough time. Even my friends used this as part of their reason for not volunteering. Before retirement it is a common belief that you will have tons of time available when you no longer have to go to work. But as just about every retiree I know claims, they are busier than ever. It’s true that the more active and engaged you are in life, the more that time fills into the available spaces of your life before you know it. Retirement is exactly the same.
Interestingly enough, people who volunteer before retirement while they are younger and/or still working, tend to volunteer more than those who are older. Stanford Center on Longevity claims that this plays out at 75% more! So it can’t really be a lack of time, can it? We all have choices about how we spend our time and why we do what we do so it likely comes down to our personal values, choices and logic. People who volunteer seem to do it because it is important to them on a bigger scale than just doing it because the research insists it is good for us—and it has little to do with the time we have available.
#2 Another reason people often offer for not volunteering is that they don’t know where to do it. It’s one thing to know that it can be both “good for you” as well as personally rewarding, and it is another to find a place/situation that fits both your abilities and your personality. I know personally that this has been a problem for me through the years. I really enjoy volunteering and have benefited from it whenever I have done it. But after a while when the position either became unnecessary or I “outgrew” it, I found it difficult to find other places that would offer similar benefits.
Interestingly enough, research into volunteering found that the main organizations that volunteers work for throughout any given year are religious in nature. In fact, 42.7% of those over 65 who do volunteer, do it there. However, according to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics in 2015, “Volunteering mainly for religious organizations decreased as education increased, from 52.7 percent of those with less than a high school diploma, to 29.9 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree and higher.” At the same time, volunteering for education or youth projects increases with education level. Education level also seemed to vary the volunteer activity. Those with less education were mainly involved in food preparation and distributions. While those with a high education tended to provide tutoring or professional or management assistance. And perhaps obviously, those with children tended to volunteer in related activities including helping to teach, coach or supervise sports teams.
#3 They can’t find a good fit. From what I can tell a big part of the problem is that most organizations don’t bother to employ or find a qualified volunteer coordinator. Instead the job is often left to someone less qualified to both identify what is really needed from volunteers and then match and place those who sign up for specific needs and activities. Rather than just sticking anyone who calls up into whatever slot is open, volunteers would likely be much happier and satisfied if they were matched with a needed tasks. And chances are good they would stick with it as long as necessary as well. Plus, allowing volunteers to grow, learn and contribute using their unique qualifications is something else that would help keep them happily engaged and in place.
For example, Thom and I visited a local property focused on promoting art in our community. Not only did they have a beautiful campus and an amazing facility filled with all sorts of supplies and tools to make art, they planned to hold classes and teach children and seniors a variety of artistic ways to create. We were so excited after our tour that we asked about volunteering. We were told they were looking for a volunteer coordinator who would “let us know” how we could get involved. That was two years ago.
#4 No one asks them. I think this reason is a natural consequence of number two and three. After all if you don’t belong to an organization (like a church) or you are struggling to find a place that feels good to you, it take a lot more effort to be the one who reaches out. I imagine it is similar to dating or finding a job these days. If you aren’t proactive, it likely won’t happen. For example, because we lost our little dog Kloe this year we were motivated to find a place that put us in an environment where we could be around dogs. Luckily we found a small facility nearby called Loving All Animals and started volunteering once a week. Just being around dogs (and lots of puppies!) filled that space within us missing Kloe and at the same time, helped an organization that needed our help. But if we had waited for them to call us, it wouldn’t have happened.
#5 Our definition of volunteering could be all wrong. I came to this conclusion after talking with my friends last week. I heard from nearly all of them that they felt that had spent the vast majority of their lives to this point giving, giving, giving and now it was time to focus on themselves and/or their families. While me, a self-employed person all her life, I have never had the perspective of working to support myself and my children—or engaged and doing all the many, many things that raising a family requires each day. I was also never literally required by my superiors (or church) to volunteer or be shamed when not participating. While my group of friends can’t speak for what men go through, it seems likely that how we as a culture define volunteering and what is routinely expected from most women needs to be reconsidered.
That idea became even more clear when each of the woman began describing some of the things that they do that bring them joy AND offer gifts to the world in many ways. Their raising of productive and happy children, their writing and blogging, their amazing artistic creations, their caretaking of elderly relatives, and much more. Just as women have been underrated in the work force if they don’t take on marketable occupations, is it possible that because many women are so naturally giving and supportive, we don’t “qualify” as having volunteered for as much? That begs the question: “If you spend a large portion of your day taking care of others how does that not qualify as volunteering?” Plus: “If you create something that doesn’t generate money, why isn’t that considered a valuable contribution to the world that should be counted as such?”
I don’t have any final answers to the questions in number five but it has me asking (and trying to answer) all sorts of related questions in my mind. After hearing some of the women in my group say they weren’t interested (at all!) in volunteering I didn’t blame them. It isn’t that they aren’t giving back to those around them or the world at large, it’s that they didn’t count their contributions as worthy and didn’t feel they had the energy to continue to try to fit into the mold of what the world calls “volunteerism.”
I personally know that volunteering is good for my health and the world. But I now know my definition differs from a more institutional approach. Plus, I have always believed that volunteering is a gift that we offer generously to the world. And as with all true “gifts” they must be offered freely to the world or they are nothing more than a “transaction” we feel obligated to make. In that light, it’s no wonder some people don’t want to volunteer! Perhaps the SMART approach is to recognize that being a creative and caring person, and sharing that with the world, is perhaps the most generous and giving thing any one of us can do in this life—call it what you will.
I have the time and I have the interest. I have a RN License. What I do not have after 4 decades of working 55-70 hours per week? A schedule. Everyone wants a schedule. I retired at 58 to stop that. I want to call and say “Hi, I’m in town for the next week and will volunteer as much as you need me up to 40 hours. Nope. Not interested. Schedule, you’ll need to work a schedule.
I don’t want to schedule time off nor will I be a no-show because I left town Sunday on a whim.
Their loss. I’m in town more than half the year. That could be 26 full time weeks and sometimes 2 in a row. But that’s not good enough.
I’m sad. Not sad enough to give up this retired life I worked my A$$ off to have at a young age. I’ve earned this stage of my life 🙂
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Elle! Thank you for your great explanation of how it “isn’t” working in your life even though you’d like it to. I get it. If they can figure out the ways and means to attract great people with a lot to offer it is their loss… everyone’s really. Surely with the right person (like a volunteer coordinator) they could figure out how to do that? I would think any organization that needs good quality volunteers would put a system in place that could manage that??? Sure they have to schedule for some things…but everything?
So enjoy the flexibility of your time. And if that changes in the future, you can always change your mind! ~Kathy
I always say (or think): “Once I retire and/or live in one place, I will volunteer.” I see opportunities everywhere, but, when you are not “settled” in one place, it is often difficult to get involved. If we would be somewhere in the right place at the right time, we’d happily clean garbage, walk dogs, … Or we’d have to make a concerted effort to volunteer, like those two weeks at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (which led to us adopting Maya) in Utah a couple of years ago.
At the moment, we are volunteering heaps of time helping out my elderly in-laws. And, I often “volunteer” proofreading and beta reading books. 🙂
I’m trying to not use the “I don’t have time for…” excuse anymore, after reading somewhere that everyone has the same amount of time in a day and we mostly decide how to use it. Instead of saying “I don’t have time,” we should consciously say “I prioritize my time elsewhere.”
Terri Webster Schrandt says
This is such a great topic for discussion, Kathy! Now that I admit to being completely retired, I am one of those who may struggle to find that perfect fit in which to volunteer on an institutional level. At this point, as we are still unpacking, I couldn’t even get any volunteers to help, although some family members helped the first week.
You are so right about people volunteering while still fully engaged in a career–that makes sense because it might be easier to volunteer for corporate events in a one-and-done capacity. During my career, I was a volunteer coordinator, supervised a number of folks and it was rewarding. I also did a ton of volunteering for church in various capacities and it really is rewarding. I am open to a volunteering gig but the right one will have to make itself known. My brother volunteered a lot with SPCA dog walking, like you, and he would not have traded his experience for anything.
Volunteering is likely recognized as a serious leisure activity. When I read your last paragraph about ways we contribute as writers, creatives, and through other passion projects, we are making our communities richer places by being engaged and sharing our experiences that may inspire others to be better people.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Terri! Until I took this deep dive into the idea of volunteerism I don’t think I ever considered how one word for the activity just isn’t enough. When you call is a “serious leisure activity” that is just another way of thinking of it. I think most of us are just used to thinking of it in the institutional or “formal” way but it can be so much more subtle and nuanced than that. Like so many issues in our world today–it’s not black and white is it?
Of course I am sure that you would be in great demand as a volunteer with all your many talents and skills. The trick is how do you choose to share them and what boundaries will you need to best serve others AND your own needs. Maybe that is the question we all need to ask ourselves. Thanks as always for your thoughts on this discussion. ~Kathy
Karen Pearson says
Hi Kathy, I have just recently started reading your books, and blog, really getting a lot from them, thank you. So sorry to hear that Kloe passed away this year. I know how hard that can be.
You have opened my eyes to volunteering, I am 70 years old ( but I forget that I am), I am working full time as a registered nurse, have been nursing for 47 years, it is who I am. When I am at work, I am “out of myself”, I am busy and focused. I have no intentions of retiring soon, but when I will have to, I feel volunteering will be very important to help with the transition. I plan on finding something that I will enjoy doing and my talents will contribute too. Something that will help keep me active, motivated and full filled. I am already starting to look into volunteering for the Library, Ronald McDonald House, and Red Cross. I appreciate your books and blog.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Karen! How nice to hear from you. And thank you for sharing some of your thoughts on both working AND volunteering. Plus I want to thank you for being there for all of us during this VERY difficult year of COVID. It surely shows dedication and compassion to stay with it when so many others were tempted to retire as soon as they can. Just based on what you shared I’m thinking you will be in great demand as a volunteer when the time comes. And as long as you stick to that directive to be “active, motivated and full filled,” you will be fine. And yes, it’s really gratifying to hear you are enjoying my writing. ~Kathy
Amanda @AnDweplant.com says
Hi Kathy another very interesting article and great feedback in the comments. I would be one of the folks who say that I do not volunteer. I have always used my time, energy and resources looking out for those in need. It could be something as simple as getting a co-worker to and from work and to her son’s activities when her car was down. Or transporting sick students home from the school where I worked when I found out their parents could not get off from work or did not have transportation. We have raised other children after our children were grown. We help family, friends, neighbors and strangers however we can. I began mentoring a student when she was 7 years old. We ended up ‘adopting’ the whole family of 6. Now eleven years later we are still close and they know they can always count on us. (Trust me we have seen them through some traumatic times.) Some things we just do naturally because the need is there. We serve others quietly not revealing to others all that we do. I have come across some who volunteer and want me to do what they do, the way they do it. I can only hope when I said I did not have time, they did not think any less of me. Now that I am retired my being busy includes time blogging, swimming, and playing with my retired friends, as well as helping out with my mother, calling and checking up on people, visiting and attending events for our children/grands, great grands, extended family, writing and sending packages to our 6 World Vision children, holding neighbors packages until they get home, encouraging others and enjoying that hubby of mine.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Amanda. Exactly.. Thank you for expressing so well the natural givingness of some people (and yes a lot of them are women) who “technically” don’t qualify as volunteers. But can you imagine the world without that in it? I can’t. Thank you for sharing how you freely participate in the world and all of us are fortunate that you do. And when I think about it…your version of giving is a “rightsized version of volunteering!” Thanks for that! ~Kathy
Tom from Sightings says
I hate to be harsh, but reasons number 1, 2 and 4 are just lame excuses people use to justify being lazy and self-centered. But I’ve experienced # 3 myself … and so changed “jobs.” And # 5 … well that’s an interesting issue. Anyway, I’d like to see you tackle the other side of volunteering — the five reasons why people should and do volunteer.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Tom! Harsh? Maybe a bit blunt 😉 but I do think that at the core most everyone is more giving than they realize–especially all the women I know. Men? I can’t speak for them. But I am convinced that those that “study” volunteerism are doing it from institutional perspectives called in some places as “formal volunteerism” vs. “informal” and therefore less realized and acknowledged. And yes, volunteering is a powerful and good thing…and guess what? I’ve written about it before and actually has SEVEN reasons why. Here is a link to that article if you are interested. Thanks for your thoughts. ~Kathy https://www.smartliving365.com/volunteering-seven-reasons-serving-others-serves-us/
Gee Tom, after serving my community with an extra 9 years of full-time hours over 38 years, I would really like to hear your 5 reasons why I SHOULD volunteer. Do tell buddy. (Oh, that was in the operating room if it matters to you.) I would also like to hear how much of my life is required as well as what priority this takes among my personal goals and interests.
I can’t wait to hear from you!
I see that Tom is unwilling to share his reasons while he is harshly critical of this blog post. I’m not surprised. Anonymity is rarely accompanied by accountability. I guess I’ll stop coming back to hear what I’ve done wrong. LOL
Tom from Sightings says
Gee, I wasn’t criticizing Kathy’s blog post at all. It’s just that a lot of times I see people making lame excuses (me included sometimes) for not doing things that would be good to do — and I recognized some of them in her list. I’m not anonymous — you’re welcome to come to my blog anytime. And I certainly wasn’t criticizing you. Anyone who works in an OR in a hero in my book!
Nancy Jean says
Great post. I have volunteered much of my life. I agree with your comment that if the work is not financially profitable it is not valued by our society. What insanity! How would this world turn if no one bagged the groceries – pumped the gas – rocked the babies in day care – visited the lonely in the nursing home….?? I often feel my contributions are either not important or not appreciated but I do it because it feel Spirit Led and good and right. I learn and grow and am feed as I give. Also – I am recently enjoying the freedom of retirement and I don’t want to sign up for days and times to ‘work’ I do a little bit of this (it’s good to help me with a schedule and get out of the house!) but I love to visit or bake for neighbors – babysit when the need arrises and recently have let my live go very out of balance for a friend in a crisis. The crisis is receding – the calvary (family and paid caregivers) are arriving and I was so glad that I caught the situation when I happened by for a visit. I have spend many years not fitting into the work force – feeling like the square peg that never could get plugged into that round hole – and I am glad to enjoy my daily life and reach out to others around me as I see a need. Thanks for another great post and much food for thought!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Nancy Jean! It sounds to me that you have been a “volunteer” for all your life and that you do it in a spirit that allows you to give back to wherever you feel guided. And congratulations on your recent retirement. I think one of the biggest challenges fo some people (particularly women) is setting boundaries for your time and your natural desire to be giving. Good luck with that. And please don’t diminish the good that you so clearly offer to others. Thanks for your thoughts on this. ~Kathy
Hi Kathy, I love all your thoughts on volunteering and why people do or don’t do it. And I agree 100% with your premise that women are natural givers and do it all the time and, mostly, with little or no recognition. I used to volunteer – mentoring and tutoring however I don’t do the traditional volunteering anymore. I think I would have to say that my reason would probably be # 3, I have never found a good fit so I volunteer in other ways. And some of #5, the definition needs to be revamped.
I donate items and clothing to various charities. I participate in ticket sales for our local hospital group – all the money is distributed amongst them. And other charities that I consider important based on personal experience. My mom and I used to sponsor a family at Christmas. Buy them all the presents, tree, food, turkey, etc. they needed to have an awesome one. The last family we did was a single mother with 3 children. And I used to do this at one of my jobs I had. The company would sponsor someone and we would do that same thing – get their presents, tree, etc. and deliver it to them when the kids were at school. The last one was a vet assistant who took in abused animals. It gives such a good feeling knowing you are helping someone out.
I know that my friends volunteer and they do seem to get a little burnt out because, you’re correct, they are usually the ones that everyone leans on as there isn’t much of a base.
That’s great you and Thom found a good fit not only for you but the organization. That sounds like a win-win situation. I read all the comments and was really impressed by them. Very thought provoking. Thanks for another great article and have a fantastic weekend!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Debbie! It sounds like you are already volunteering far more than the “statistics” show for exactly the reason that they (or we) don’t count it specifically the same. I’m not sure there is any way for governments to track what we do, even if they wanted to. I think the key is for us to recognize and appreciate what we do do. Not to pat ourselves on the back to but acknowledge that when we have a lot to give it is natural to want to return the gift. It certainly sounds like you do it.
Plus like with your friends, trying to fit in when it isn’t a good fit or being overwhelmed with too much isn’t a solution either. And good for you for doing the adopt a family around the holidays. We’ve done that several times and like most “gifts” it feels so good to do it that that is reward enough. But it can be hard to find a family (or a person) who really needs it right? Last Christmas I put out a message on our local NextDoor and found two families we felt needed help with stuff. Not sure if that was the best solution but it felt right for us. Another time I tried to create a project in our city to help local seniors but the red-tape our city required was CRAZY. Just to hand out cookies to seniors they required all sorts of classes and even finger printing. When an organizations makes it so very difficult then there has to be a better way.
Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks as always for your comment! ~Kathy
Mona R McGinnis says
The pandemic restrictions have certainly highlighted the role of volunteers. The community association isn’t able to hold summer equine events or the usual winter fundraising events. The Home Routes organization that managed touring musicians and volunteer hosts has been put on hold. The senior housing lodge won’t accept volunteers. I’ve enjoyed ad hoc volunteering, i.e. lending a hand when necessary (Canada Day pancake breakfast, cleaning up after the lodge events, working the admission gate, etc) without any formal volunteer commitment. Volunteer burnout can be an issue in small communities where the volunteer base is low and it seems to be the same people doing all the volunteering. The local Family & Community Support Services (FCSS) does an annual recognition of volunteers.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Mona! Sounds like you have found volunteering to be rewarding, pre-pandemic at least. Hopefully with things opening up here in the U.S. and in Canada (slowly but surely?) it will get back to being available. And yes, like you say it does usually turn out that the same people do the majority of the work in work, live and in volunteering! But as long as the awareness and feeling that you get more than you give is there, it doesn’t matter does it? Thanks for sharing all your great experiences. ~Kathy
Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au says
Yes – one of the biggest drawbacks to volunteering is being taken for granted. I’m getting much better at saying “No” and moving on if I feel like I’m being used (before the resentment truly kicks in). That’s the good thing about volunteering – you can leave any time – which is much easier than it is for those who are caring for loved ones etc.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Leanne….yes having boundaries and the courage to speak up is critical. It can turn a less than desirable experience into something rewarding…but as you say, when it comes to loved ones that can be a lot trickier!
I’ve had so many disappointing experiences. It looks like those would fall under #3. I give back by donating money and items to charities that are important to me but don’t necessarily want to physically volunteer any more. Also my dog is a rescue.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Squeak! I’m betting that you likely do more than you realize to give back to others it just doesn’t qualify as “formal volunteering!” And yeah, I know that if you can’t find the right fit it seems rather pointless to continue. Like so much I do think that the right place will find us if we keep our mind open so never say never! And good for you for rescuing a dog. How can we do otherwise? ~Kathy
Pandra Markkula says
Kathy…I retired early, age 55, as I was getting married and knew that I would soon be moving and need to leave my job where I had been for 37 yrs. I was correct and moved to the East coast within the year. My husband’s job required him to travel and I found myself alone frequently. I decided to volunteer in Annapolis MD to fill my time. We were in MD for 3 yrs, I started volunteering at the local hospital, ended up in their consignment shop, which I loved and was volunteering 5 days every week, 8 hrs a day. Within 3 yrs we were transferred to Florida where I immediately started volunteering for the town of Davie FL at their City Hall…I also volunteered at the Ft. Lauderdale Int. Airport…again we were in FL 3 yrs and we were moved to San Pedro CA. Being back in CA, my mother moved in with us as she needed care. I lasted approximately three months and started looking for a place to volunteer without not getting too involved. I then volunteered at the Assistance League of San Pedro-South Bay and was there for the next 10 yrs. There I started in their Gift/Consignment Shop, became Shop Manager…then a Board Member, then became President.
Needless to say, I love volunteering. After my husband retired, we moved back to Rancho Cucamonga, into my original home…I was tired of volunteering and felt I needed to be home with my husband however after a few years, I’m back, volunteering at TAIE (Travelers Aide Inland Empire) Ontario International Airport. Needless to say, I’m a volunteer addict. I am in my 80’s now and cannot imagine retiring from volunteering. Apparently it’s part of my DNA.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Pandra! WOW! Thank you for sharing all you many volunteering adventures. It’s so true that when you find the right fit is can be an incredible experience. And I’m not surprised that you “eventually” became Board President. Obviously they knew they had found someone special and kept you deeply involved. I think other organizations could learn from that experience because that was a bit of mine (in a less positive way). After five years with a local nonprofit that mentored high school girls I felt like there were a lot of things we could be doing better but the organization wouldn’t hear of it…so I left without regret. If dedicated volunteers aren’t allowed to evolve and help in the mission of the Non profit, they likely won’t continue. And yeah, it does sound like you are a volunteer addict…but there are A LOT worse things to be addicted to. They are lucky to have you! ~Kathy
Retirement Reflections says
Hi, Kathy – I was also surprised by last week’s conversation on volunteering. My conclusion was similar to your #5, i.e. how we define ‘volunteering.’
I also believe that another key reason for some retiree’s reluctance to commit to traditional volunteering is that they have been tied down to a work timetable for so long that they now want to be free to ‘up and go’ whenever they like — even at the very last minute.
Another spanner in the works has been the pandemic. For many years, my husband and I have volunteered at our local animal shelter each Tuesday. This has been a great fit for us, and we were free to switch dates, or put our volunteering on hold, whenever we travelled. Sadly, our shelter remains closed to volunteers, but we have fostered two beautiful dogs who were in need of a temporary home during COVID. So there often are workarounds. Richard and I look forward to our shelter being open to volunteers again soon — we miss it greatly! As you (and research) strongly conclude – good fit volunteering can be a win-win-win!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hey Donna! Ahhh…you are so right to about that idea that often people don’t volunteer because of the time restrictions. That is actually one reason why we are delaying getting another pet after losing Kloe. Most obligations do restrict our time in one way or another–and yeah, things like the pandemic really mess things up. But like you said, if you go into a volunteer capacity and tell them in advance what your “travel” or other plans are that need flexibility, they will often comply. That’s what happened for Thom and me at Loving All Animals. We explained before we even started that we would be gone all summer and they were just happy to have us when we could. I love what you say that “good fit volunteering can be a win-win-win!” ~Kathy
Nancy Coiner says
Hi, Kathy — I’m one of those people! I’d love to volunteer to read to kids in the hospital or do ESL work with immigrants (I’d do best with smart grad students with problematic language skills) or helping kids write better, but during Covid, nothing face-to-face has been happening. Plus, there’s the issue about travel — a lot of programs want/need you to be around reliably, and right now, I want to be gone quite a bit of the year. Plus, where can I volunteer to help with writing? SO, what I do for the moment is volunteer with Learning in Retirement — moderating seminars and serving on the Curriculum Committee. It’s definitely time-consuming and a service, but it also feels a little insular. I’m hoping to figure it out better in the coming year.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Nanci! I agree that last year made volunteering even tougher than normal. Good for you for finding something that feels right to you and is a definite service. As you say, lots of places want a more concrete commitment from volunteers and that actually makes it harder for retirees. Once we achieve the freedom and flexibility of retirement it is hard to restrict ourselves. If organizations could come up with a way to be more flexible they might be able to get more volunteers. Once a person feels stymied and resentful of a volunteer job I doubt they will do it much longer (if at all). But I can’t help but believe that if we start acknowledging all the many things we do for others on a regular basis then we likely would reap the benefits that volunteerism brings without having to fit into another organizations definitions. And yes, I’m all for things evolving better in the coming year. ~Kathy
Nanci Cartwright says
The fifth reason really resonates with me. Giving to family, giving to employers, and giving with volunteer work. I knew that if I made it to retirement (which happened at age 65), that I was going to finally do more of the creative things that I’ve always wanted to do…for me! Also, I discovered that just because I don’t have an 8 hour job to go to, I still have cooking and grocery shopping and house cleaning and gardening work to do. I’m fortunate that my husband pitches in his fair share, but I had in my mind that retirement would be the easy, carefree days like I had in my childhood, lol. The only thing that disappeared was paid work. The rest of the responsibilities stuck around.
However, I also found, that as an introvert, when I volunteered with Master Gardeners (so the fit was good) after we retired and moved to a new location, I was the little worker bee who just put my head down and did the work while others did a lot of socializing. After a couple of years I decided that I’d rather put the work into my own yard. Also, some of the volunteering here insists on 6 hour stints and with a back/leg issue, that’s not possible for me. At least with MG, volunteer slots are set at 2 hours. Because they draw a lot on retired seniors for volunteers here, it makes sense to have shorter stints, especially for volunteer work that involves physical abilities, including standing and walking. Now at age 70, and with compromised mobility, I especially prefer to spend my time on my creative work. I’m able to do more “walking” since discovering the Trionic Veloped, an all terrain rollator that goes up and down curbs, shallow steps, into snow and onto dirt trails with aplomb. I walk my dog daily, for at least a mile every day using that marvelous tool. And then I got a small indoor rollator with a tray to assist me when making dinner…I can load everything I need on the tray and ferry it to the counter and go from stove to oven with hot pans (on a wood tray placed on the rollator tray) instead of schlepping things one by one, because I need to use a cane with one hand. I realize that this has nothing to do with volunteering but might be a subject for you to explore in a future smart living segment. How do you find and use tools to stay active and involved as the aging process throws you unexpected curves?
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Nanci! You are so right we often think that retirement will be like the “carefree days of childhood.” hahaha! While there are certainly benefits those are them!
And thanks for bringing up the consideration of balancing our physical (and mental) health to where and when and how we volunteer. I agree on that 2 hour time frame. When Thom and I first talked to Loving All Animals we were thinking we’d stay all afternoon to help with the dogs. It took us ONE session to realize that 2 hours was our limit and is actually a lot! And good for you for finding a vehicle that helps you get around more as well as different tools that can help as well. I would think organizations that want/need more help would try to be more sensitive to the needs of the volunteers rather than just trying to squash square pegs into round holes. Again, a real key to me would be to find a volunteer coordinator (paid or not) and require that they spend more time matching volunteers to specific tasks.
And thanks for the idea about helpful tools as we age. You’d think that would be a very helpful post. ~Kathy
The Widow Badass says
Thank you Kathy, for a very balanced and interesting perspective on volunteering and what is/should be referred to as volunteering.
You’re right – everyone in our group IS volunteering and giving back, big-time…albeit in a mostly unrecognized way. As is the way with most womens’ work, unfortunately.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Deb! I am glad you are willing to acknowledge you were part of that discussion group I mention. I certainly didn’t name names and wouldn’t without your permission! Although I do think that you and all of the women I talked to automatically give to the world in so many ways. It just surprised me that few of you seem to realize that. Perhaps more importantly, I hope that it makes others think about what they are doing (or not doing!) in the world and regardless of whether it qualifies as “formal volunteering” realize it is a great gift to us all. ~Kathy
Ann Kelly says
I find the biggest barrier is that volunteers jobs are often very boring. Perhaps that is ok. No one has died of boredom I always say. There are just so many other interesting things to do. I think the volunteer sector could include real jobs without pay
Kathy Gottberg says
Hey Ann! So true. I actually found that most of the “formal” volunteer work for women is in food preparation and delivery. And while that might be gratifying, it isn’t mentally stimulating. Wouldn’t it be great if some forms of volunteering could be “real jobs without pay?” Anyone reading this know about any???? ~Kathy
The Widow Badass says
I once volunteered on a crisis line – nobody I ever talked to was in crisis (they were mostly just lonely or disturbed) but boy, was it interesting!!!
Bethany @ Happily Loco says
I am getting caught up with everyone, now that it is summer vacation for me! 😉
I love your redefinition of volunteering. I used to volunteer in the traditional sense, back in high school. I was a “big sister” for a boy with disabilities, and we ended up being friends for many years, until he passed away in 2010. He even stood at the guest book in my wedding! My time spent with Eddie helped me on my path to my career as a special education teacher. I think my daughter is leaning in a similar direction. She really wants to work as a therapist for people with disabilities (especially autism), and she has talked about wanting to volunteer at the special needs camps that she has enjoyed attending.
I don’t think that I do a lot of volunteer work now, but I guess that in a way, my writing kind of fits the bill. I also donate supplies to my yoga community, to help the studio stay open during the pandemic. And I stay after class to help tidy up and disinfect the props. I see this more as “giving back” rather than “volunteer work,” but it really is the same thing as volunteering at a church.
And I love what you said about time. This past year, I have had more responsibility in my career than I ever have before, and time management has become extremely important. Unlike most working mothers, I have time to go to my yoga class 5 days a week. And this is because I prioritize that over other things, like having fancy homecooked meals, working extra hours, ironing, etc.
Thank you and have a wonderful weekend!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hey Bethany! Happy Summer Break For you! And thanks for sharing your personal story about volunteering. I actually read in one article that some groups break it down into two different kinds: 1) formal volunteering and 2) informal volunteering. I’ll bet that if you add up all you do and frankly that most people do without even thinking of it, that most of us informally volunteer all the time and in far larger percentages than just 25%. Of course when institutions start trying to quantify anything they go for the more formal and easier route than otherwise. That’s a shame and part of the problem where women are concerned because I think it is largely in our nature to offer informal volunteering throughout our lives. But again, that isn’t recorded or often even acknowledged. May you continue to find the time to give back in ways that express the joy and abundance you feel in life. ~Kathy
Jamie Hart says
Interesting data. I started volunteering with my parents when I was a child. My parents taught handicap swimming lessons and we were partnered with children our own age. I learned from an early age about the benefits of volunteering. I have always volunteered. And I continue to do so.
It was never a requirement to graduate from school. Today in my area the high schools require it.
Some of the young men and women are amazing. In fact I belong to an organization that recognizes the youth for their efforts. My retirement has allowed me to spend more time helping in areas that I find rewarding.
I have observed friends that struggle finding a need that “fits” them. I also observed many waiting for the invitation.
Many of the youth that were active volunteers, some even creating their own charities, are still active. It is part of their well being to continue to do so. Some were first beneficiaries of services and want to give back. It would be interesting to find out the percentage of continued volunteer efforts of the generations that were required to log a minimum of hours while in high school as well as what type of service the performed.
And I continue to ask if someone wants to join me when the opportunities are presented. I can’t read minds very well and someone just might be waiting for that invitation.
I will continue to volunteer because it make me feel good!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Jamie! Good for you for all the good you do volunteering. But your comment brings up another interesting aspect of this discussion and that is whether or not “required” volunteering is helpful or just makes people feel shamed or guilted into it? I didn’t see any research on that idea. But as a person who was raised in a large working class family (or was in school where it wasn’t required) I wasn’t taught or expected to volunteer–but I found my place with it anyway. I do it quite selfishly because I get more out of it than I put into it…that includes writing this blog, helping friends when I can, taking care of puppies, etc. etc.
In so many ways the idea just reminds me of the pressure we all feel (especially as women) to do the right thing–and that can be manipulated by others into shaming us or guilting us if we don’t comply. Sure we all know that eating the perfect right food, exercising consistently in the right way, socializing as recommended, doing brain exercises, etc. etc. are “good for us.” But are we doing it out of the joy of expressing life or? Okay, sorry. 🙂 I’m off on a tangent again! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and own story about volunteering and keep doing it because of the way it makes you feel! ~Kathy
It is the fit that I hear the issue. So glad that you have found a good match for you and Thom. As many of my friends retire now they say they want to volunteer and yet they don’t do it. Or they try something, or some group and they don’t click. On the other hand I do have a couple of friends who are more busy with their volunteer work than they ever were in their work lives. Volunteering can take many different forms. I volunteer my body and health. I am currently in 2 long term medical studies for women with breast cancer. I have completed a couple of other short term studies too.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Haralee! How wonderful that you have found a way that gives back to the world in a way that is unique to you. Isn’t that the best goal for us all. So important to remember that as you say, “Volunteering can take many different forms.” And let go of any shoulds or have-tos at our age. ~Kathy
Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au says
Hi Kathy – I was surprised that so many of your friends aren’t interested in volunteering, but I guess it’s all about different strokes for different folks. I’ve volunteered all my life – as secretary for the school P&C, and then for a local community group, and for many years for our church. I’ve also done Sunday School teaching, Youth Group leading, school mentoring, helping new mums with multiple births….and goodness knows what else. Volunteering’s just been something that gives me a sense of giving back. Currently I’m helping at our local Mums and toddlers playgroup – I make coffee, hold babies, chat to mums, clean up afterwards etc – it’s not a perfect fit for me, but it stretches me and widens my world to include others in different age brackets.
I think I’ll always volunteer in some capacity – and I think your volunteering with puppies sounds amazing (I’m waiting for a someone to need a kitten volunteer!) One of my mum’s friends volunteers at a children’s hospital nursing new babies – that would be divine!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Leanne! Good for you for all the volunteering opportunities you’ve experienced. But actually all my friends do volunteer in a less traditional way and that is what I found most interesting. I also thought it fascinating, and something I had never considered before, of how shame and guilt likely plays a part in whether or not some people volunteer. I hold the belief that if you are rewarded by the action and know that it is your part to play in the world then good for you…but just like tithing in a church, if you are giving but feeling ANY resentment, best to rethink that experience. Thanks for sharing your own experience of volunteering. ~Kathy