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Raymar Hampshire is the CEO & Co-Founder of Sponsorchange.org. I serve as a writer for their blog, The Philanthroteer, and as their online brand advocate. Raymar recently wrote an intriguing piece. In it, he argues that we radically rethink what it means to volunteer.
Redefining what it means to volunteer
by Raymar Hampshire
Our generation desperately needs to redefine what it means to volunteer. I came to this realization after I conceived the idea of SponsorChange.org, which helps college students raise money to pay back their student loans by volunteering. Surprisingly, some charitable foundation members strongly criticized this idea saying, “How could you possibly pay volunteers you are cheapening service!” Some said, “Who would ever want to pay somebody to volunteer!”
I vividly recall the devastation I felt after leaving these meetings. I was being painted as the bad guy for having the audacity to suggest that volunteers could be financially incentivized to serve, and to suggest that private citizens and corporations would be interested in sponsoring their service. However, I quickly realized something that these experts overlooked, and that was the fact that we are already paying people to volunteer. If you have ever paid taxes you are supporting government sponsored volunteer programs.
For example, Peace Corps and many other similar government programs refer to their members as volunteers. We don’t question the altruistic nature of Peace Corps and suggest that its volunteers should not be incentivized. Peace Corps volunteers understand that their commitment to service is backed by financial incentives, including a modest living stipend, scholarships for graduate and professional school, and non-competitive eligibility when applying for government jobs just to name a few. Although financial incentives like these often exist and factor into our decision to serve, we tend to avoid talking about them for risk of coming across as individualistic or worse having our caring called into question.
Apparently, as a society we need to be convinced that people care. We need to see tangible acts of serving to somehow validate a person’s propensity to care. We check the care box when we give large donations. We check the care box when we decide to take a small salary job with a non-profit, and we check thecare box when we freely volunteer. According to Robert Wuthnow, a sociology professor at Princeton University and author of Acts of Compassion: Caring for Others and Helping Ourself, “those who are most involved in acts of compassion are no less individualistic than anyone else–and that those who are the most intensely individualistic are no less involved in caring for others.”
We need to redefine and approach volunteering differently. We need to abandon the self-righteousness and elitist notion that volunteering should always be purely altruistic. Indeed it is easier to volunteer out of altruism if you come from a place of privilege. But what about the millions of people who care but simply cannot afford to volunteer because they are working multiple jobs just to make the ends meet? Financial incentives could be used more often to build pathways to volunteer opportunities. I encourage you to think of other innovative ways to introduce incentives so that we can better mobilize our generation’s young leaders to volunteer.
Raymar Hampshire is the CEO & Founder of SponsorChange.org. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of All Education Matters or Ms. Cryn Johannsen.
"To Hell with Bitterness. Here's to Collaboration and Groups who Count - Celebrating SponsorChange.org," March 7, 2011
"Work for credit to pay off student loan debt," CNN, March 4, 2011
"What it Means to Build: Edulender, SponsorChange.org, and The David & Goliath Project," February 11, 2011
"SponsorChange's New Campaign: 'The Big Pay Back!' Are You Involved Yet?," August 17, 2010
"Interview with Raymar Hampshire," August 3, 2010
Great piece. I agree, "it is easier to volunteer out of altruism if you come from a place of privilege." A streange culture has developed in this country where any sort of expectation is regarded as entitlement. It keeps people from speaking out, because it strikes at one's core ideas of self-worth, ability, and things of that nature.
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