Archives for posts with tag: volunteer

Why would anyone ever want to volunteer? There are absolutely no tangible benefits; you’re lucky if you get a gift card to The Keg after years of service, if that. There’s no pay, no money, no financial incentives, no personal economic benefit whatsoever. A Joker once said, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” Our whole culture is built on the principle of selling our labour at admittedly below-cost wages, and who would stray from that? For something with even less pecuniary value! Makes absolutely no sense.

When you consider that money is actually garbage at motivating people beyond completing basic tasks, it makes perfect sense, and it turns out there are quite a few reasons why people give away their labour for free. Some reasons adhere to the ‘giving’ nature of volunteering: altruism, paying it forward, fighting for those with special needs (youth, the elderly, the disabled, etc.), and developing a helping culture. Others follow the ‘getting’ path: emotional rewards, meaningfulness and self-fulfillment, personal well-being, and a place in society. Some relate to both: gaining by giving (eg. I might need this kind of help later) and personal growth. And completely irrelevantly to the previous methods, people volunteer as an expression of their values, to follow their role models, to fill up spare time, to overcome personal matters, and most importantly, as a continuation of a lifetime of volunteerism. This is going to come back later, so remember that: a continuation of a lifetime of volunteerism.

The benefits of volunteering are most felt among seniors. Compared to the equivalent non-volunteer, elder volunteers have better physical and mental health, they have better life satisfaction, a longer life expectancy, fewer bouts of depression, and they have greater access to pertinent health information such as exercise techniques and preventative medical care. If you’re old and you volunteer, you are literally less likely to die. The more volunteering you do, the better your chances, as there is a 63% greater increase in perceived health between those who volunteer at multiple organizations compared to those who volunteer at just one. The benefits go on: volunteering can prolong an independent lifestyle, extend participation in the labour force and community, prevent memory loss, and it can even help manage chronic illness. Perhaps you might associate healthy people with volunteering, rather than volunteering with healthy people, but luckily science has already stepped in and said, nah, volunteering does all this. It’s pretty great. In fact, it’s pretty dumb not to.

And, as with everything, we seem to be getting dumber, and shockingly, it’s not the Millennials’ fault this time. Everyone knows about Canada’s aging population, right? Well, more than just single payer healthcare is at risk. Retirees have all this free time, no family commitments, and our seniors today are way healthier and more educated than any group of seniors have ever been before, ever. Ideal conditions for becoming volunteers. However, the enthusiasm isn’t there anymore. It was: even though young people volunteer the most out of any demographic, seniors have traditionally devoted the most hours. On average, seniors devote about 223 hours to volunteering, compared to the next highest group (ages 15 to 24) who clocked in at 130 hours. Seniors make up most of what is called the group of Super-Volunteers, the 10% of all volunteers who make up about 53% of all volunteer hours. These Super-Volunteers aren’t going to live forever, and unfortunately the next group in line to take their position are Boomers.

The Report of the National Seniors Council On Volunteering Among Seniors And Positive Active Aging predicts a “void” which these Boomers are unlikely to fill. Considering that volunteering is estimated to contribute more than $14 billion to the Canadian economy annually (estimated because nobody gets paid, remember), it’s probably pretty important to figure out why Boomers are dropping the ball. There are two lines of thinking on the matter.

The first is that Boomers are such delicate snowflakes that they put the worst libtard SJW to shame. Just listen to this directive from Volunteer Canada to organizations seeking to lure in prospective Boomer volunteers:

Effectively engaging baby boomers requires careful consideration of the life circumstances of each volunteer. Taking the time to listen to the interests and motivations of a potential volunteer can serve to benefit an organization in designing a meaningful assignment that also meets the needs of the organization.

That Seniors Council report from earlier explains that Boomers need “stimulating volunteer experiences that respond to personal needs and interests.” Boomers need a sense of ownership over their work, and need to see its impact on society. They fear that organizations are simply dumping busywork on volunteers, and want volunteering opportunities that matches their skill set. Organizations that rely on volunteers are usually smaller, which typically require a more generalist approach, but Boomers don’t want to deal with any of that boring shit. Boomers want to change the world, but they don’t want to actually do grunt work in order to get it done. Dirt under the fingernails is for peasants, I suppose. There is also less religious incentive, as this incoming generation of seniors is less religiously inclined. Volunteer Canada says that churches, which used to serve as a formal and informal recruitment centre for volunteers, will no longer be effective with Boomers. Shame too, given that almost all of those Super-Volunteers identify as people of faith, even if they don’t cite religious motivation as their driving force.

The other line of thinking for the volunteering decline is the reason the Boomers give themselves: they simply don’t have the time, both in their day to day lives and in their inability to make a year long commitment. Now, that’s a safe answer to give and perhaps the real answer is one that Boomers simply aren’t willing to divulge in a survey, but it’s worth looking into. Boomers do seek casual commitments, swiping left more often than right, testing out organizations before making real commitments. Our oft cited report defines their volunteering as “episodic,” with a greater emphasis on specific projects rather than committing to a single organization for any significant period of time.

Boomers are the first to endure being nicknamed a Sandwich Generation: a generation that must care for its aging parents as well as its stay-at-home children. Obviously this isn’t a new phenomenon, and it is quite common in certain cultures, but it is of growing concern due to the work commitments that households face today that they didn’t before, on top of these additional caring obligations. People are working more hours than ever, and wages are not keeping up with worker productivity, which means people are working harder for less money. With that less money, Canadians owe $1.67 for every dollar they make, with the total Canadian personal debt burden topping over 2 trillion dollars. For reference, from that same year (2016), the Canadian federal debt was 1.3 trillion. Remember that bank employees are pressured to deceive their customers in order to up-sell credit spending, even if you want to forget the practices of credit card companies that target those in poverty with high interest, high penalty rate offers sold under the guise of solving their financial woes. So it’s no wonder that folks are working more. Seniors especially need to put off retirement or continue to work part-time just to survive! Who can volunteer when you’ve got to work essentially forever and take care of kids who can’t move out because they’re even worse off than the Boomers?

In all honesty, the answer probably lies somewhere in between. Boomers don’t want to drudge through the muck in order to help others, they want to be the champion that saves the day with their unique talents. Those are the lucky ones, while the rest are stuck in an increasingly exploitative economy that doesn’t allow time for community work in the first place. Hmm. A community that is failing to take care of itself in any meaningful way due to a cult of individualism and structural economic inequities… hmmmmmmm….

There is a way out. When looking at seniors transitioning into retirement, the greatest factor in them becoming volunteers isn’t religion, altruism, or any ‘giving’ or ‘getting’ motivating factor. The increase of new volunteers upon retirement does not even come close to those who simply continue to volunteer. Those who have been volunteering throughout their entire lives. We shouldn’t be trying to convert Boomers as they stumble into retirement; they’re already a lost cause. Start people volunteering at an earlier age, and those will be the ones who become the next Super-Volunteers when they discover all that free time you’re supposed to get at retirement.

We need to create a culture of volunteering. Remind people that there are better ways to find fulfillment than just earning a paycheck. Try to avoid falling into the trap that an individual can save the world on their own. Superman is a fiction. The reality is that groups of people are the ones who make change. We need to reconnect people with their communities. Rebuild the idea of neighbours. This idea of community rebuilding is quite prominent in progressive circles, and perhaps a culture of volunteering is the path to its fruition.

Being in a third world country, you begin to notice a few key things about it. Mostly, it’s terrible. Extreme examples of poverty, apathy towards human life, sickness and malnutrition, whole loads of things that really just suck pretty hard. And if you’re anything like me, as an armchair pseudo-intellectual, you tend to think about how one might be able to make a difference over there while sitting in a comfy chair, in a relatively large, environmentally-controlled room.

I had been to India, and I was speaking to someone who had been doing relief work in Haiti, and I asked them if they had thought about improving Haiti as I had thought about improving India. How do you make a country less shitty? The answers are fairly obvious. In no particular order: sanitation, better infrastructure, education for women, education overall, better healthcare, better safety nets for the poor, less corruption, better heath and safety standards, and so on and so on and so on. Easy, right? Well how do you implement them? Where do you even start?

A lot of people immediately go for education as the number one. Educate people, and they’ll see how crummy life is by themselves, and then they’ll take steps to fix it. Ideal, really. But then I heard a few stories, one of which stood out in particular. My tour guide was telling our group of an instance where the Indian federal government had set up this program where students would be given free lunches. It’s great, right? For children who might not be getting even a single meal a day, having a free one waiting for them at school is a great incentive to go and educate themselves. Problem solved; India begins the long road to rehabilitation. Unfortunately for India, one of the main rules there is that nothing is allowed to go right. What ended up happening is that by the time the money for the lunches had made it to schools, it had been skimmed from so much that there was hardly any money left for the food, and what ended up being served was so unsanitary that a bunch of school kids died.

So is fixing the corruption the first step? It’s really difficult to say. When issues like women’s rights, unsafe drinking water, and poverty are staring you in the face, it’s almost impossible to say which one needs the most attention.

Even if you do decide to which to address first, and I do mean you, the reader, in this instance, the one who obviously wants to make a difference in the world, what can you actually do? It’s not like you can go up to the leader of a country and be like, “Hey mister president, you should stop being corrupt. Listen to me, for I am white and privileged!” Even if you could, having the Great White Saviour solve all the world’s woes is a problem unto itself. Countries should have the right to fix their problems for themselves. For one, those problems are more likely to stay fixed that way, and for two, there won’t ever be the niggling feeling that ol’ whitey is only after oil or out to influence the local culture.

So do you just sit around, ignoring the world’s problems while they either solve themselves or spiral out of control into a fiery inferno? I suppose you could if you really wanted to. I am merely text on a page, with no influence over you save for my reason, charm, and the dashing good looks which I assure you I possess.

There are charity donations, but charity is a fickle concept. Charity cannot fix problems. It is the “giving a man a fish” scenario. You might help a person out of a bind, but they are still stuck in a place where that bind is the norm. On top of that, there are questions as to where that money you donate actually goes. Suspicious administration fees are one thing, but there is also the question of whether or not what you’re donating to is good for the community. Are you buying food for them? Is the food you are buying in direct competition with local farmers, who now have to compete in a market where their competition offers free products? I’m not saying don’t donate to charity. It can be a powerful tool, but you have to make sure that your donation isn’t going to be a tragic waste of money.

Volunteering is another possible solution for the average idiot to help out those less fortunate. There are issues here too though; those similar to the issues with charity. Is your volunteer work something that a local could do? If you have a special skill or knowledge that just simply isn’t available in bulk in whatever country you’re volunteering in, then yes, you are an asset to that community. But if you’re helping out for free where a local could be doing the work and getting paid, then maybe think twice about the volunteer work that you’re doing.

Then of course there’s just talking about it. Who knows what solutions you might come up with?

None of the things you do will fix a country. That is up to its people. But you can make a difference on a more community-based level. And if you want to, then nothing is stopping you and you should definitely go for it. If you don’t want to, don’t feel bad because you are one among many. You’re reading this though, so  you’re at least being forced to think about it, and maybe that’s enough.



Post-script: I am not getting into local help versus international help. This article is only about international because that’s what the conversation that sparked this was about. I personally prefer local charity over international charity, and if you want to talk to me about my reasons why feel free.