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Tips: Realistic Expectations About Volunteering
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, January 2011

Committing to volunteering is something most people feel is important to do - to give back to the community and help others. Volunteering is important to living a balanced life.

With responsibilities such as family, work, health, to name a few, some people are finding their volunteer demands are adding more stress to their lives and are releasing themselves from those commitments. That can be helpful to give yourself a chance to regroup and prioritize what is important. Perhaps taking some "time off" might serve as a "re-set button." However, before you completely abandon your volunteer commitment carefully consider its value both to you and to those you serve.

Clarify Expectations - Set boundaries for yourself. Bear in mind your current obligations in all aspects of your life. Then, make sure to set clear expectations with the organization or the person you are helping about what will be your specific tasks and time commitment.

Be Realistic - Change takes time, often a lot of time. Consider the resources you have and how best to allocate them for the benefit of the organization or person you are helping in both the short - and long-term. You can always begin "small" and then grow into more of a commitment as your life allows. If you need to see immediate results, be sure you have the right position.

Be Patient - Consider the type of volunteer work you are doing. For some services, unless you can stay for years, you may not see much immediate impact from your volunteer efforts. For other services, you will see change more quickly. Focus on the contribution you are offering as part of a continuum of other volunteers, each of you giving time and energy to making a difference.

Don't Underestimate The Little Things - Remember how powerful are simple acts of human kindness; a smile, offering encouragement, listening to someone who is often alone, and a willingness, on your part, to learn from the people or the organization you serve. These can have an enormous and lasting impact.

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