I recently did a volunteer day for a children’s organization that supports low income communities and kids suffering from neglect. It seemed like a “feel-good” project and I spent the day weeding a children’s play area. However, I could not help noticing that most of the kids were well dressed. The indoor soft play area and outdoor park were in a nice neighborhood. Towards the end of the day, we had to ask the centre to provide sand as we had pulled out so many weeds from along the pathway that some of the stones were coming loose. They were not prepared with any sand though.
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I left feeling a bit annoyed. First, there were probably communities that needed the help a lot more that the seemingly posh area we were in. Second, at a time when so many people are in need of a job, it probably would have been better for the community if the charity had hired real gardening and repair people to help them. I love my team but I think we’d all agree that we were the most overpaid, under-qualified team of gardeners ever to work in the centre.
People like to volunteer because it makes them feel good about themselves. Companies like to show that they are doing great things for the communities they operate in. This is something companies can brag about (or get awards for). It’s a big deal. But is it the right thing? I’m not so sure.
Helping the community?
Don’t get me wrong, there are times where volunteers are needed. For example, when flood waters rise, you can’t always depend on gardening or repair companies to show up. Sometimes there are emergencies where people need help – hurricanes, war, tornadoes, terrorism. Doing physical labor can also help charities keep costs low.
But what if charities actually paid people to do the work they needed? If you’re at a charity serving soup to the homeless – probably people who need jobs – wouldn’t it be a good idea to pay some of the homeless people a decent wage to serve the food? What if companies donated £1000 to a charity to pay for cleaning and repairs and put money back into creating paid jobs? I worry that by companies doing volunteer work, they help perpetuate some of the problems in the community by taking jobs from the area.
How can we help?
I do think that there is value to volunteering but I feel that it could be changed a bit to ensure that we make the most of people’s skills and abilities. One company I was at had a really awesome programme whereby they would pair people with amazing business and financial skills with the CEO of a socially responsible business startup. The programme was run by the Human Resources department and employees got training credit for their work.
It was exciting to see some of the businesses expand. Many of them had amazing business ideas. Some were selling products that benefited local communities, another was saving the environment by getting businesses to offer free tap water. I feel that these types of activities are important and can lead to real change.
What do you think? It traditional volunteering the way to go? Please comment below.