Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the U.S.
Dr. King was a leading organizer in the African American civil rights movement, so I figure that it’s a good time to discuss another of my personal finance goals for 2014 — getting back into volunteerism and giving, even as I continue to pay off massive amounts of debt and improve my financial situation.
Sorry; getting back?
My professional life, until very recently, had entirely been spent in public service.
Even when I returned to school, I managed to find time to volunteer at local — and often, very non-local — organizations.
Then came 2013 — the year I buckled down and decided to get very serious about getting the finance side of my house in order. In that regard, I made huge strides, while sadly, service got lost in the shuffle.
Why I want to get back into it
There were a lot of things I loved about working toward the social good.
- It makes a difference: That’s an obvious starting point, right?
- It feels good: Few things are more fulfilling than giving back and working on behalf of a cause I care about. It’s one thing to look around and think about how some aspects of the world suck and how someone really ought to do something about it. Doing that through 2013 made me feel powerless. But back when I was that someone who was doing something about it? Even if I was just pushing the needle a little bit toward making the world I live in better, it gave me a great feeling of being in control.
- I meet great people: The stripped-down hierarchy almost inherent to public service means teamwork is totally necessary. Luckily the folks I came across were generally pretty stellar. The diverse backgrounds of those involved have also made them useful for gleaning knowledge, networking, and mentoring. Though many years have passed
- I pick up useful skills: The same stripped-down hierarchy of non-profit work can also offer the chance to pick up and use skills much sooner than in other organizations. Notably, I’ve found myself in charge of big groups of people and big budgets, and made plans whose effects (or lack thereof) had implications on the national level — all at a pretty early age.
What are some shortcomings of volunteering?
Let me be clear; my laziness was the primary factor in me sitting out 2013, but there are some genuine hurdles that make volunteering tough when money is tight.
- Travel and transit: Different causes have taken me to many different parts of the country — sometimes on short notice and almost never paid for. Now that I live in New York without a car, traveling to a destination that’s even a few miles away can become prohibitively expensive if it’s not metro-friendly.
- Learning and maintaining non-transferable skills: How can learning skills be both a pro and a con? Yes, much of what I’ve learned is universal, and learning how to learn is a truly underrated skill that I’ve nearly perfected. But I’ve also become very good at many subjects — from track-driving to Montana to paper-folding — that I’ll likely never use again. Moreover, I’ve spent a lot of time, money, and effort, building up some solid professional skills — it’s sad that I can’t use them for volunteerism.
- Time commitments: There is no such thing as a medium time commitment when it comes to me and volunteer work. Being talked into doing more, becoming emotionally vested in seeing the cause succeed, and being irked by inefficiency, all contribute to me diving in more deeply than I should.
My 2014 goal related to volunteerism
When it comes to public service, the passion has always been easy; it’s the execution and setting limits that have been difficult.
Thus my goal for 2014 is that I will, by the end of March 2014 have identified, researched, and made with an organization with which to volunteer on a regular basis in order to feel fulfilled, meet great people, and pick up and maintain useful skills.
In order to limit costs which could interfere with other goals for 2014, I will ensure that the volunteer position:
- Requires less than one hour of total travel
- Requires or teaches skills related to what I do professionally
- Allows me to clearly set boundaries for the level of commitment I’ll make.
So, who else has service among their goals for the new year? How are you ensuring that you’ll give the most and get the most out of it.