When Volunteering Is A Disappointment

Retire and volunteer. It’s a feel-good consideration for people making their retirement plans.  Giving back and making a difference by volunteering certainly sounds rewarding. Sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s not. Because, given the wrong set of circumstances, volunteering is a disappointment.

I know, it doesn’t sound right to be negative about volunteering. In the right situation, it’s a positive, inspiring activity. We absolutely need people to give their time and help to causes they believe in. Just remember to go in with your eyes open.

There are two important things to consider before you commit to being a volunteer. You need both a passion for the cause and a high comfort level donating your skills. Without either of these, your volunteer activity can easily become a chore and feel like work.

First, select an organization that  “wows” you. Remember, you’ll be giving them your time and very likely additional financial support as a volunteer. If you aren’t sure whether or not it’s a good cultural fit, sign up to do a small project before you commit to a longer term assignment.

Feeling good about what the organization does, isn’t enough. Dig deep and be honest with yourself.  Do you really have a passion for what they do?  Once you decide to give your time, you need to be all in. Otherwise, offer financial support instead of your time.

If you’re considering a volunteer activity that uses your career skills, think long and hard about the opportunity.  Your skills were developed over a lifetime of hard work and on-the-job experience. Are you going to be okay offering them without pay?

If you volunteer in a professional capacity, it’s likely you’ll be applying your skills to situations not unlike what you encountered during your  career. No doubt you’ve dealt with frustrating situations and people along the way while you were working.  There’s a key difference when you’re offering these same skills in a volunteer capacity. You’re no longer an employee and handling the difficult situations won’t come with a paycheck. 

I’ve  made the mistake of volunteering for organizations that didn’t wow me at the start. I thought that passion for the cause would grow over time as I became more familiar with the operation. It didn’t work that way. I’ve since learned that I need to have a passion for the organization before I offer my time.

I also realized that I wasn’t ready to give away my professional skills. There’s a big difference between dealing with frustrating situations and individuals as a paid employee and as an unpaid volunteer.  Lesson learned.

Think about it. If you’re lukewarm on the organization to start with and end up dealing with difficult work-related situations without pay, how jazzed are you going to feel as a volunteer?  I can say I wasn’t. Now I know better.

Be smart. Volunteer with your head AND your heart.


People of all ages struggle to live a more meaningful life, but the struggle to identify a meaningful retirement is very real. Working with a certified retirement coach can help you frame what’s important to you and how to work towards it in order to find a meaningful life in retirement. Please contact us if you would like to discuss your journey and how we can help.

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