Volunteering: Paying it forward

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In 2016, 43.7 per cent of Australian adults volunteered a total of 932 million hours — Adrian Arndt discusses the concept of paying it forward.

VOLUNTEERS. We see them everywhere — sporting clubs, schools, canteens, charities.

People that give of themselves to make a difference for others. People that often go without praise or thanks but turn up, time and time again. Volunteers: they are an interesting species. 

In a society often driven by consumerism and a burgeoning millennial population, the humble volunteer presents a unique paradox. The millennial population, often characterised as social media obsessed, yet also socially aware and concerned about the footprint we leave for the next generation. It all seems a little bit ironic.

I am proud to say I am a millennial and a volunteer, as are a number of people close to me. Everyone volunteers for a range of reasons and for a range of causes, but at the heart of it, people generally volunteer to make a difference. Recent statistics released by Giving Australia indicate the percentage of Australian adults who have volunteered in some capacity has increased over the last decade. In 2016, 43.7 per cent of Australian adults volunteered a total of 932 million hours. To put that in some context, the number of hours Australian adults volunteered, in 2016, equates to 86,000 around-the-world swims. 

There is a theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to perfect something and there are many motivated people who subscribe to this and apply it to their everyday lives. This concept of motivation is an interesting one when it comes to volunteering. What motivates people to spend millions of hours each year helping others? Is it purely about giving back, or is there more to it than that?

I am the first to admit that volunteering isn’t for everyone and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Though for the people that do volunteer, I believe that as much as they give of themselves, there is often more gained in return. People giving of themselves to help others, but in actual fact gaining things from the experience.

I happily admit that I have gained many things from volunteering. Apart from the warm and fuzzy stuff, an insight into the hardships people suffer, through no fault of their own, has made me a better person — a person who is more appreciative of my own circumstances and an advocate for those who don’t always get a voice. You can almost think of it as a bit of an "exchange": giving of your time to support a cause and, in return, benefiting from the experience. 

The notion of this exchange doesn’t sit comfortably with everyone and, in some ways, is a challenge to the stereotypical volunteer. However, whatever way you look at it, volunteering is an opportunity for everyone to benefit. 

When thinking about volunteering, the phrase "paying it forward" is one that often comes to mind. Today, I am a person with the ability and desire to volunteer and help people. Tomorrow, or at some point later in my life, I will be sitting in the other camp as the recipient of someone else’s volunteering effort. That concept of an exchange, for me, is pretty clear. 

You can follow Adrian Arndt on Twitter @aarndt20.

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