It’s good to carry your volunteer weight and then some

If you want to make a real difference, then you have to be contributing more than the resources you are consuming in the process. Otherwise, awareness building aside, it would be more efficient for charity staff to carry out the tasks.

Volunteer time + donations > staff time + resources used

Today’s Wall Street Journal article about the “Helping Hordes” straining New Orleans charities that the volunteers purportedly seek to help describes problems that are not, sadly, unique to the Gulf.

I am fortunate to work with individual volunteers and select companies that really understand this. Every time PMD cooks a meal, we use donations from the actual volunteers and our other donors to purchase all of the groceries from top-notch purveyors. This removes the burden of time and funds a charity would have to spend grocery shopping so that volunteers could cook a meal. Most charities simply cannot accomplish this unless they employ a full-time cook and supporting staff for their kitchens, and since PMD tends to help the small, grassroots charities, our resource-committed role is essential to feeding hungry people.

In April, McKesson did a great job with its annual Community Day for which PMD organized the volunteer projects for their Newton, MA, employees. Together, we planned for and provided all of the tools and materials, as well as feeding lunch and giving t-shirts to the nearly 60 volunteers and the dozen charity staff who worked with them. We had funds remaining in our materials budget, so we purchased needed items that recipient charity Cradles to Crayons identified on the regularly updated, ”Top Ten Most Needed Items” on its home page.

This weekend with PMD’s organizing help, Cornerstone Research’s Boston staff will converge to give a “yard makeover” to a residence for frail, formerly homeless, elderly women, followed by a do-it-yourself ice cream social that will enable volunteers and the women to interact after several hours of hot, yard work. I’ve spent quite a bit of time purchasing all of the materials (flowers, composted manure, mulch, etc.) and tools for 30 people to garden simultaneously. And I’ve become quite the penny-pincher since I want to get as much value as I can for each dollar Cornerstone is contributing.

I could share many more PMD examples since PMD chooses to work with companies that believe in creating more net value. Unfortunately, I spend a lot of time attempting to convince other companies that this is The Way to do things. Many businesses just don’t get it, and want to believe that participation from their group is enough, despite the obvious associated costs, even their internal organizing capacity. I find it odd since they seem to reserve this thinking for their volunteer activities and not their meetings and business activities, yet expect even greater productivity and enjoyment from their volunteer activities. Maybe this is like childish wishing one can “get something for nothing”?