Monday, August 30, 2010

Breaking free from our Volunteer Management echo chambers!

Ok now here is a story I will reprint in full

To give us another look at people’s views on volunteering.

This will form part of my anti echo chamber series. Reproducing such articles does not mean I agree with them. However I do recognise the value of thought outside the echo chambers! It doesn’t mean its right…but we need to discuss various views even those outside our comfort zone I think.

here is the article from Alison Schrager (Allison Schrager is an economist based in New York.)

When a friend suggests they help clean up a park, Allison Schrager politely declines. "Why would I spend three hours of my time picking up trash?" As a professional, it makes more sense to donate what her time is worth ...

A friend once invited me to spend a cold winter's day picking up trash in a park. It was a community-service event organised by a charitable organisation she was involved with. I immediately told her I was not interested.

"It just makes no sense," I explained. "Why would I spend three hours of my time picking up trash?" I argued that if the goal was neighbourhood beautification, then I would rather donate three-hours' worth of my labour income. The organisation could then hire several people in need of a job. The trash gets picked up, we provide jobs, and I do not have to spend three hours in the cold. "Where can I make a donation?"

My friend sighed, mumbled something about it seeming like a good way to meet men, and then shuffled off to ask someone else.

When we feel inspired to do good, many of us choose to give time instead of money. Given how precious our time is--cramped by demands of work, family and friends--setting some of it aside to clean parks or deliver meals seems like a valuable donation. But is this the most efficient way to give?

The economist in me is inclined to say no. As I explained to my friend, what my time is worth may be far more valuable to most charities than my actual labour. The money could go towards hiring people with limited employment opportunities, or to help cover more pressing needs facing the charity, such as rent or staff salaries. My hours of labour, on the other hand, serve the charity in only one way, and can only be provided by me.
Volunteer labour becomes more valuable if it involves a special skill. For example, if a talented doctor donates a few hours of his time to a free clinic, this may serve the charity better than a $1,000 donation. Unfortunately, I can think of few local charities that would benefit from the unique skills of an economist.

I recently explained this to a professional who regularly donates his time to a local soup kitchen. But he argued that "just throwing money at a cause" is potentially irresponsible and enables detachment. Donating time may be a greater personal sacrifice, but it also gives him a stronger connection with the cause. He has forged a bond not only with the other volunteers, but also with the people he feeds, and the result is an enriching sense of community. He also believes, as a member of the same minority group of many of the people he serves, that he provides them with a positive role model. He recognises value in the social interaction volunteering provides.

Of course charities benefit from both kinds of donations. They need some people to just hand over cash, but they also thrive by being an integral part of the community. Whether it is better to give money or time depends on your goals as a donor. If the objective is simply to provide food for the hungry or to clean a park, then money is more valuable. However, if you hope to also engage with your community--not only with your peers, but also with less fortunate people whom you might not otherwise encounter--no amount of money can compensate for your time spent.

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