Sep 10, 2007

Walking the Talk: Motives for Volunteering

Because I like my job--research, writing, and editing--I thought I might be an exception to the general rule that volunteers are happiest doing work that's different than what they do all day. I was wrong. I tried board membership and other responsible roles, and found that making phone calls or editing donor letters felt too much like work--which turned out to be the last thing I wanted to do at the end of the day.

But now I've found the perfect volunteer gig: dog walking. My office is near a Humane Society, and after a little training, I'm signed up to walk their rescued dogs for two hours a week. I get a break from the workday, the dogs get out of their cages and get a little leash-training, everyone wins. Maybe I win the biggest, because having a dog who was fearful and unhappy look up with grateful eyes and a slobbery smile is better than any therapy.

Is there a lesson here for nonprofits who don't have cute animals, but want to offset their costs with some volunteer help? Maybe it's to keep focused on what's in it for the volunteer. Yes, every volunteer wants to help the organization, but that can feel rather abstract. Call me selfish, but when I head out for my weekly walk, I'm not thinking "I'm off to help the Humane Society," I'm thinking "Will my favorite dogs still be there, or--better yet--will they have gone to a good home?" (It's a no-kill shelter, so I don't have to worry about a third alternative unless they were aggressive or seriously ill.)

Delta the RottweilerAll of which leads me to the first of a regular feature here: The "Moment of Awww" photo, featuring a dog that I walked who's up for adoption. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out Delta and other potential new canine housemates at the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society.