I’m frequently inspired to volunteer more, but the problem is that I never quite see it through, which leaves me feeling selfish and small. With an already hectic schedule, how can I find the time to be the volunteer I want to be? I want to help, but feel overwhelmed at the thought of adding to my plate.


Our intentions are innocent and pure when it comes to volunteer endeavors. We want to help. We want to put our natural talents to work for a good cause. We want to bring light to dark places. But giving without a game plan can leave you overcommitted, grouchy and resentful of the very people you started out wanting to help.

Then, volunteer burnout ensues, and you decide to just forget the whole thing…until this time next year when, like giving birth, enough time has passed that you can’t recall the pain being all that bad, and you think trying again is a grand idea.

Before jumping in to any volunteer commitment, take a moment and think it through so that you can give back in a way that is healthy and productive. And to the reader who asked “what I was going to spell this week,” today’s acronym is GIVE.

G is for Gauge Your Time. Resist the knee-jerk reaction to say “of course; I’d be glad to help.” Before you commit to a volunteer endeavor, think about the time you have available. If you’ve been whining to your spouse for days that you’re running around like a nut and wish you could just sit down for a minute, then don’t take on coordinating the children’s Christmas Eve pageant at church.

Be realistic about the time and energy you have to give, and avoid the frustration that comes from being overcommitted. It sucks the joy out of what should be a rewarding and inspiring experience, for both you and the recipient of your good intentions. If you blow in 20 minutes late to the soup kitchen, roll your eyes, complain about the parking and shout “I’m here, I’m here…where do you want me?” you may as well have stayed home for all the peace and joy you’ve brought along with you.

I is for Identify Your Gifts. I used to sign up for volunteer efforts that friends and family were involved in, but soon learned that I didn’t have a lot to bring to the Brownie Troop or house-building tables. Consequently, I ended up resenting having to show up for these things that I didn’t want to do in the first place.

Part of being an effective volunteer is putting your natural talents to work. I soon realized that I was most comfortable using my business skills in a volunteer capacity, so now that is the kind of volunteering for which I sign up. As I loathe camping and craft-making, I was ill-suited for two years of Brownie troop leadership. I am, however, a darn good cookie manager. I’d rather hang myself than a door, so I was much better at leading fundraising activities for Habitat for Humanity than showing up with a hammer in hand and no clue what to do with it.

V is for Verify Your Intentions. Sometimes we set out on our volunteer quest without thinking about why we’re getting involved in one particular effort or another, and soon grow bored with the process. Take a look at any given endeavor; evaluate how you can help and, more importantly, why you want to.

If you’re chairing the school fundraiser because you want to be acknowledged by the parents and the administration as a good mother, you’re in it for the wrong reasons and it will ultimately leave you empty.

The cause should speak to you at some personal level, and you should try to walk in with a clear intention for how you hope to help. From recycling to recovery, get involved in groups that work toward goals that matter to you.

E is for Expand Your Reach. Volunteerism that simply comes from the heart is ideal, but giving back can also benefit you beyond the warm fuzzies. If you can’t carve out the time in your schedule to volunteer, try to combine volunteering with your career or business objectives.

If your internal communications climate is a bust at work, arrange a team to Race for the Cure or build a local home. Need experience for the fundraising job you want, but can’t afford an unpaid internship? Get free hands-on training by volunteering with a local charity. Looking to generate exposure for your business? Sponsor a non-profit event that your target audience would likely attend.

And a word on leadership…try not to get hung up on volunteer leadership titles. I tend to assume the lead role when it comes to volunteering, but I’ve had to give that up in order to be balanced in all areas of my life. Given your hectic schedule, leadership may not be an option for you, but that doesn’t mean your time and talent are any less important to the team’s efforts. Without the worker bees, the queen’s honey operation would shut down, so keep your eye on the very good goal…not the title.