more on giving and taking

I’ve taken it upon myself to try to demonstrate, with a handy little info-graphic, what it takes in terms of volunteer hours to pull off what our PTA pulls off each fall. Our school has a tremendous group of volunteers. Our PTA wants to thank them–especially after a few volunteers had some unfortunate exchanges with parents who do not regularly volunteer.

Here’s the thing: in my very humble opinion, our group of volunteers is too small, and will get smaller, because life is very different now than it was even ten years ago. Time and energy are scarce. More and more at-home or even partly at-home parents are re-entering the workforce. My gut (opinion) tells me that if we, as parents, understand the true investment required to do what the PTA does, the value of the PTA will grow. More people might give either time or resources. 

Opinions reflect values. And when you present data, and you have an opinion… well, the presentation of information can be an inherently (insidiously?) political act.

All I want to do is say something like, “this carnival raised a few thousand dollars and required about as many volunteer hours, and its benefits are innumerable–who can put a price on smiling students and families–current and alumni?”

Or something like, “we raised $14,000, and to do it, we needed 226 students to participate in a fundraiser which required over 100 volunteer hours to execute and manage.”

What might people see?

  1. People could see this information and think “Wow, that’s amazing. If I helped a bit more, I could spread that volunteer investment around, and make our efforts even more worthwhile.”
  2. People (not likely the same people) could see this information and think, “I guess they don’t need my help as a volunteer, they have it covered.”

Right there. That divergence of opinion, those two different perspectives: Doers and Watchers. Givers and Takers. (Or, if I’m feeling particularly put upon: Helpers and Free-loaders, or Martyrs and Users.)

Nothing is so cut and dry, though. And this thing I’m trying to do, this picture I’m making? I’m not interested in feeding a martyr’s ego or excusing a user’s lack of participation. I mean, I admit I have an agenda, but I think it’s a nice one: I’m interested in all those people in between. The ones who see that information and simply appreciate it, or maybe even feel pride in what it says about our school’s community.

Maybe those are the people who are especially kind to volunteers when they attend crowded events, knowing that these are volunteers, parents like them, who for whatever reason, have the inclination to give some time, when they themselves do not. Maybe these are the people who quietly donate cases of water, bags and bags of prizes, or have an old high school buddy who could cut us a deal on a bounce house. Maybe they are the people who will chat with fellow parents at sporting events or school events, and speak well of our school and its volunteers, even defend both if need be. 

How do you reach that “middle?” Those people in the middle–they’re the ones that could have even less time and more stress than the doers and the watchers… The ones who might not even have time to stop and look at a flippin’ picture.


Why do we volunteer? Why do I volunteer? Because we–I mean “I”– can. Because I like “doing.” I don’t do it for “thanks.” I don’t think others do, either. It’s just that nobody wants to be taken for granted. Nobody. Hmmm.

I gotta do some more work on this picture.



“you can always say ‘no.'”

My husband says that to me, when I express even the slightest bit of tiredness with whatever I’m doing as a volunteer. He says it perhaps because he works really hard. If he had the choice to be less tired, he’d probably say “no” to a lot of things.

But I don’t need reminding. I know I can always say “no.” I know I, unlike my husband, have a choice.

Our kids, they love, and I mean LOVE, to be chased around the house, by a grown up who is pretending to be either a ghost, a lion, or a bad guy from Star Wars. They run and run and run, and laugh and laugh and laugh, until somebody, usually the grown-up but often our son, announces: “I’m tired!” They take a break, and move on to the next fun thing, that requires less physical energy.

We don’t suggest to our kids, “You can always play a game that doesn’t make you tired.” That would make no sense whatsoever. They have energy. They should spend it. They have imagination. They should use it.

I could always say “no.” But I don’t want to. I have energy. I have imagination.

It feels so good to use it. To be of use.

To make others happy.

help others, be happy

I nearly drowned in my Twitter feed last night. There’s a tremendous amount of disappointing news out there, about people in the public eye, making choices that serve nobody but themselves.  

But then I read this study from my alma mater, the LaFollette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Basically, “[b]eing motivated to help and believing your work makes a difference is associated with greater happiness.”

“More and more research illustrates the power of altruism,” Moynihan says, “but people debate whether we behave altruistically because of hidden self-interest, such as the desire to improve how others see us. Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system.”

As Adam Grant’s previous research notes, there are givers, takers, and matchers in the workplace. Givers are more productive, on the whole. And now we know they’re happier, too. 

That pleases me, to no end. Because altruism makes me happy… but validation? Ecstatic.