How to give back: the importance of volunteerism

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Print this page James K. Walker, CPA

I believe in giving back. I believe that it is incumbent upon those of us who are more fortunate to give back to others, even strangers, all the good things we have received in life. It is our responsibility to volunteer our time, talents and resources for the benefit of others.

There are many reasons why volunteering is beneficial to all involved. When we volunteer our time for a good cause that we are impassioned about, we reap rewards far beyond our efforts. Many people become involved in volunteer activities because of our children, our families, our friends or co-workers. Because of these connections, volunteerism often takes the form of coaching sporting activities, leading Scouting troops, teaching Sunday school, or acting as class mom. These are all necessary and vital endeavors. But there is more.

Volunteers who witness the dire straits of others cannot help but feel more appreciative of their good fortune. They also have the potential to inspire others to act generously. People who volunteer may be instrumental in inspiring others who have lost hope in life or their trust in humanity to put their lives together and move forward. It is important to demonstrate though our action that no matter what befalls us, life is still very much worth living.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteers served 8.1 billion hours in 2010, valued at an estimated $173 billion. As nonprofit organizations continue to feel severe budgetary constraints, the contribution of volunteer time and effort becomes even more essential to the success of the mission. All across the country, organizations are serving with fewer and fewer resources. Volunteers work in a variety of areas to fill in these gaps. Millions of volunteers devoted their time to working with youth through mentoring or tutoring and teaching. More than a quarter of all volunteers supported fundraising activities or sold items to raise money for an organization. A significant percentage of volunteers collected, prepared, distributed and served food or contributed hours through labor or transportation.

The demographic characteristics of volunteers are interesting to note, especially by age group.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who are 35 years and older are 50 percent more likely to volunteer than those under the age of 35. And yet, for those 20-somethings beginning their careers, volunteering is a vital step in the development of their personal and professional network. By volunteering their time and talents, younger professionals create relationships/ As educated as they may be, they still need to develop or sharpen other skills, such as leadership and interpersonal communication. While working for a nonprofit with other volunteers, they have the opportunity to learn project management and public speaking. By demonstrating their proficiency, volunteers are asked to become involved with more and different kinds of activities, both within the volunteer community and at the office.

This certainly makes all the sense in the world. However, I often recommend to young professionals who are looking to get involved in their communities to step outside their comfort zone. The potential for personal growth and development is so much greater. For example, as CPAs, we are often asked to serve as the treasurer for a nonprofit organization when we volunteer. That is certainly within our wheelhouse and provides a comfortable entry into the volunteer experience. However, I encourage CPAs to aspire to other positions within the organization, specifically positions of leadership, thus allowing them to develop additional skills that may be helpful in other applications. As volunteers have rewarding experiences, they are more inclined to continue to give of their time and talents.

If you really want to understand the impact of volunteers in our society and on our economy, envision a world without these volunteers. No volunteer coaches or coordinators for sports and social activities. No fund-raisers that drive research to cure medical ailments. No one to collect and distribute food and clothing to those in need! No health professionals reaching out and helping victims of natural disasters! The list is endless.

Are you a volunteer? If you are, thank you for sharing the gift of your time and talents to help others. 

Are you ready to be a volunteer? There are so many opportunities for you to get involved.  Choose something you are genuinely impassioned about, and start making a difference. I guarantee you will get more out than you put in.

James K. Walker, CPA, is president and owner of Walker Consulting Group, where he focuses on corporate and individual taxation. A former chair of the Virginia Society of CPAs (VSCPA) Board of Directors, Walker has more than 28 years of experience in providing tax planning advice to businesses and their owners.



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