I posted this on The Motley Fool. Thought you all might find it interesting.
The goal for most people to get to FIRE is a chance to spend their time as they wish. For many this includes volunteer activities. I've burbled about volunteering before, but now I want to explore the dark side of volunteering – doing too much and encounters with the power hungry.
It's real easy to end up spending too much time on volunteer activities – just like work, when you are good at something, they just give you more to do. In fact there are definite similarities between work and volunteering, except in one case you don't get any money.
1. If you aren't careful, volunteer activities can fill all your time and annoy your family. There is a fine line between getting fulfillment from volunteering and spending too little time with your family and friends. This is why with my volunteer activities I've moved very slowly in accepting new/more responsibilities. My family is more important to me than any volunteer activity, and it helps to keep that in the front of my mind when besieged with requests.
2. If you do let volunteer creep occur, there is a good chance you'll be burned out, just like at work. And that is a terrible thing to have happen. Something that you formerly enjoyed greatly turns into a dreaded chore. I have seen rehabilitators almost lose their minds during baby season. They, and any other volunteer, have to know when to say “No”. Sometimes a breather is all that is needed. If a person is truly burned out, it's almost impossible to get them back.
3. Sometime saying “No” will have undesirable effects that must be accepted. When a rehabilitator says they cannot take one more animal, there is a good chance that animal may die. That's why it is so hard to say “No”. There are also people who will deride someone who cuts back on their load. You have to grow a thick skin – but most people on their way to FIRE already have pretty thick skins.
4. Even in volunteer organization, there are some people that are all about “power” (like some managers?). I recently joined the Board of Directors for the organization where I volunteer. This experience has been a real eye-opener. I couldn't believe that there were people who were more concerned about their name getting out into the community as an important person within our organization than they were about wildlife, but so it has turned out to be. And as far as I can tell, many people, just because they were elected to the Board in some capacity, think they are now “better” than the other members of the organization. I've watch them make decisions that should have involved people outside the Board and I've heard them speak of the others as “children”. As you can imagine, I've been pretty cranky about this stuff and generally a pain in the butt to other Board members
5. This leads to MONEY. Someone awhile back [on TMF] talked about a general who, when retired, served on the Boards of several charities. He said it was important to see where the money was going before you volunteered in other capacities. By golly, he was right! Not everyone can start on the Board, but I was appalled at some of the mismanagement of funds. Not in the embezzling sense, but just spending money on the wrong things. This was often tied to the power motive. As a result, rather than donate extra money to the organization, as was my wont, I directly spend money on what I think is important. At least I know my money wasn't thrown down the drain.
Having said all that, I really enjoy my volunteer work, though I'm not sure I want to stay on the Board. Some have talked about how hard it is to join a group and find meaningful ways to help out. The fit is awfully important. You need to be sure that you generally approve of the organization and that you are comfortable with its agenda – political or otherwise. Then you have to figure out who the truly important are – not the power hungry, but those who really understand the basis of the organization. These are often people who work directly with whatever the charity is about
: the homeless, children, animals, etc. The people that do the real work. Once you get to know and understand those people, you'll know if you want to continue with that organization.
So with that, I hope that those that want to volunteer find their niches. Just don't think everything is going to be perfect, because nothing in life is that way.
arrete – time to feed the babies