Charity Work is Not Work.

I am, it seems, a glutton for charitable punishment. Last year and the year before, I co-chaired a carnival for my son’s preschool. It was the school’s largest fundraiser of the year – with games and rides and food and a concert, plus sponsors and advertising, and organizing dozens of parent volunteers. It was a lot of work; I spent hours making phone calls and designing flyers, soliciting sponsors and making signs, and we ended up raising a decent amount of money for the school, which went to new playground equipment and new furniture for the classrooms. It wasn’t easy balancing the added responsibility with my work and the rest of my life, but I managed, and it was fun being involved in the preschool. I got to know everyone who worked there, and my son was so proud that his mommy was in charge.

 

So last May, I volunteered to co-chair the annual auction at my daughter’s elementary school. She was just finishing kindergarten, and I figured it would be a great way to get to know people, and to be involved in her school, just like I had been at the preschool. But by October, when the work started to heat up, I realized that I had gotten myself in way over my head. Unlike the Carnival, which was basically a part-time job for a few months, the auction is a full-time job and a half, and it doesn’t leave room for much else, like, say, my real job. Now, to be fair, I finished my book at the end of September, at which point it was determined by several people (including myself) that I need to do a re-write. And to be even more fair, I did want to take a break for a few weeks, maybe a month, before diving into a re-write, in order to get some distance, and some perspective. Yet here we are, almost in March, and I haven’t so much as looked at my book since I first finished it. And what I’ve realized is that somehow, in the course of the last six months, I have (temporarily) transformed from a working mother into a mother who does charity work. Which, I’ll have you know, is not the same thing.

 

I used to think that if I ever decided to stop working, like, say, when I retired, I would be able to find fulfillment through charity work. I figured that I could serve on the board of a non-profit organization, or I could organize fundraisers for causes that I believed in. I assumed that if we ever got to a point where I didn’t need to make money, then I probably wouldn’t want to make money. And I imagined that charity work would be the perfect outlet for me – a way to work, but yet, not work. A way to do something with myself, but yet, not have to answer to anyone, and not be bogged down by the responsibilities of a traditional, paying job.

 

CinRoberts
02.28.09

Risa,

I am juggling several part time jobs from Cooking Instructor to staff member at Jooners. I don’t want to get into the mommy wars on this blog as every mom needs to find their niche. There are a lot of valuable reasons to get involved in charity work and school involvement. I haven’t taken on a major role at our school yet I keep my hand in it so I can serve the community and be involved in the lives of my children. They are so happy to see me at school. I get a big hug from them when I arrive to volunteer. I truly enjoy working in the classroom. I teach math to 3rd graders every week. That is fulfilling for me in so many ways. I truly admire our Girl Scout leader who works full time leads our Daisy troop as well. The volunteers come in all flavors, motivations and demographics. As Nazila mentioned we are working hard at Jooners to encourage volunteering yet make it super easy to sign up volunteers. We welcome you to visit our sign-up sheets http://jooners.com/gallery or blog http://blog.jooners.com/jooning/. Let us know what you think and how we can make this a more valuable tool for you.

Cindy

RMB
02.27.09

Risa,

Hi. I'm glad you put this out there. But I have to disagree with you. I've always worked full-time and found time to volunteer at my kids' schools. They are 13 and 15. I've been at this for 11 years. From room mom to president of the parent group, I've done it.

Here's why: With school budgets being cut in California and class sizes being way too high, our kids' schools need our support.

I want my kids to know that I value education and want to help them and their school.

Yes - it can be thankless work for no pay. Yes - sometimes I'd prefer to sit and read. But the school needs volunteers. And our kids need helpers in their classes. And the schools need money because tax dollars don't cover anything. (BTW - my absolute favorite thing to do is spend time in the classroom. My kids are older now - but some of my best times were in their elementary school classes. Little kids are a blast.)

I started a Web site for parents who want to help their kids and their kids schools thrive. Check it out at http://suchasmartmom.com - That's Such A Smart Mom.

I hope you'll continue to volunteer. You are doing important work. There are lots of fun and rewarding options

Take care,
Ruth McKinnie Braun
Such A Smart Mom

cathylux
02.26.09

I have a career plus I have been PTA President for the past two years. I sympathise with the author--volunteering can be a big black hole of commitment. It is too easy to burn out. I understand the desire to be in a situation where people show their appreciation of your work with a paycheck, and people who sign up to do their jobs honor their commitments.

teacupteachermom
02.25.09

Relax, Workin It! She wasn't personally attacking you, nor was Risa "stoking up the Mommy Wars and insult[ing] a whole new class of mothers." She was quite clear that she was expressing how she, Risa, feels about doing this work herself. She even acknowledges that it makes her selfish. And that is ok for her not to like doing charity work, be it for middle-class kids or very poor kids. Everyone has the right to their own opinions and likes and dislikes. And that is the wonderful thing about the country we live in. We all have that right and the freedom to express it. With that right though, comes the responsibility not to attack those who don't agree with us, or be personally insulted by the opinions of others. We are all grateful to mothers like you who volunteer countless hours to help others. We really are. Risa is just saying it isn't something that she personally enjoys.

angstmom
02.25.09

Another great article Risa! You totally captured the essence of most charity work- it can be demanding, time consuming, and leave you longing for your regular job (and paycheck!)Can' wait for your next one!
Jennifer
http://angstmom.com

Sunwhirld
02.25.09

Whoa. I'm passionate too. Thanks "Workin It" (above) for voicing how I feel when I say I'm honored to have the opportunity to serve my community. It's the most meaningful work I know. I've organized my elementary school fundraiser (Animation Festival with Pixar), been the PTA Treasurer, and organized thought provoking Book Fairs and Science Fairs where we celebrated the life of the mind.

I can say the neatest thing I found to help along the way was www.Jooners.com. It just takes no time to have people sign up online to also give time to their community or kid's school.

When I'm at the end...and I look back on what I was able to do in my life. These will have been some of my proudest moments. By the way, I also work...very hard...and in the end the saying that "your job will never love you back" is just SO true.

nazila
02.25.09

I can understand Risa's point of view. Volunteering can be rewarding but it can also be a time sink. It could be a thankless job no matter how selfless you are. Especially when it comes to smaller organizations such as our local public elementary schools or your child's sports team. Part of the problem is that there are no good tools to streamline the activities, manage the volunteers etc.. I would bet money that Risa could have saved lots of time with the appropriate tools, if they were available. Unfortunately, these groups were not deemed "important" enough by companies to make products and tools for them. Thank goodness on the web it is easy to make products and streamline the efforts of volunteers to create less frustrating/time devouring experiences. I invite you to take a look at what we do at jooneers.com/gallery. Our collective efforts were inspired by the time sinks that we experienced.

Would love to hear your thoughts...

Nazila Alasti
CEO/Founder
Peace of mind at http://tinyurl.com/cwc4s4
nazila@jooners.com

Workin It
02.25.09

Wow Risa,

Way to stoke up the Mommy Wars and insult a whole new class of mothers: mothers who work outside the home, but not for pay! All mothers ought to know what it’s like not to be paid for the priceless work they do, so we should be celebrating and appreciating all of the work that mothers do, not putting it down.

I think you should take another look at those assumptions you made in this post, which are that mothers who work for charities for no pay are:
-wealthy
-not actually working
-not bogged down with responsibilities
-don’t have to answer to anyone
-are just keeping busy
-are not rewarded by doing work that is “just for them”

As someone who has worked with the unpaid directors of a non-profit advocacy organization, I can tell you that none of those assumptions are true. Mothers who dedicate their time to a charitable organization are often simply comfortable-but-not-rich middle-class women who pour their hearts into their unpaid, non-profit work because they are passionate about the cause they are serving. They have a vision of a better world, and they make a choice to build that world, even if no one can afford to pay them for it. Their responsibility is actually quite huge too – they know that if they don’t do their charitable work, then perhaps no one else will, and the world will be a little worse off.

Perhaps the issue you really meant to write about was that you did not love the role of fundraiser for your kids’ school. I can understand that, because I don’t love doing those fundraisers either. Not every charitable activity is of the same world-changing caliber. Some charitable organizations buy new furniture and toys for middle-class kids whose lives would probably not be materially changed if they had to sit on old furniture and play on old jungle gyms. Those kids already have solid middle-class parents who probably read to them, play with them and provide for all their needs and many of their wants and comforts.

But some charitable activities feed, clothe and shelter people who would otherwise be hungry, cold or homeless. Some charities advocate for people who cannot advocate for themselves. And some mothers are just so driven to make the world a better place that they are willing to forgo any pay for the real work they do. I celebrate and applaud those moms. I wish more people; men or women chose this kind of work, paycheck or not.

And I wish others wouldn’t judge or belittle them because they really, really don’t deserve it.