Current Questions: Volunteering

It’s officially the holiday season, which means the time of giving to those we know and those we don’t know. Volunteering and donations typically see an uptick during the holiday season. My own volunteering, however, is seeing a downtick. 

When we moved to a new city, I knew I would want to get involved in volunteering somehow. I do not have a people-loving personality, but I do care about how people are treated, and I don’t want to just give lip service to humanity my entire life. I was also looking for a way to keep my Spanish up, so when I found a volunteer opportunity at a nonprofit that serves this city’s Latino immigrant population, I was totally on board. 

I joined this nonprofit as a volunteer early this year. But for me, it’s kind of fallen flat. I love the organization, and want to see it succeed because it offers invaluable services to this community. But after a few months, I don’t know if I’m a good fit. It’s a bit hard to find shifts I can take when I work full time, but more than that, the shifts I do sign up for call for a better level of Spanish than I can offer. 

The volunteer coordinators stress that you don’t need to be fluent to help out. And I know they need all the help they can get. But multiple times, when I’ve gone to speak Spanish to a Spanish speaker, I see their faces fall when I struggle with conjugations or can’t understand what they’re saying. I can literally see in their face when they give up on me and my usefulness to them. It sucks because I know I’m losing my Spanish and it sucks because I’m not able to be helpful.

I’m aware this is a very selfish issue to be having. I’m putting the emphasis on how uncomfortable I feel while minimizing how uncomfortable it must be to have to try to register your kid for school, for example, in a language and country you don’t know well. But I also don’t know that it is the best fit for me, because I don’t know if I have the discipline to commit the time and effort needed to get my Spanish up to par. The shifts I’ve worked recently have left me frustrated and intimidated, and I wonder if it would be better for me and for the organization if I found something else to do. I would like to leave shifts knowing I helped someone, if only for a short moment. I would like to not dread the shifts I sign up for. That’s not really happening with what I’m doing currently.

So that’s what I’ll be doing this winter — considering my volunteer options. Do I commit to this organization and commit to work on my Spanish and commit to finding opportunities there that do work for me? Or do I decide I can be of more help elsewhere and then find an organization that is a better fit? How do I balance this decision with what is best for me, and what is best for the organization? Volunteering is supposed to be a selfless act, but it’s still somewhat like a job in that the volunteer needs to be a good fit for the organization. It’s yet another area of life in which I’m working on finding balance.

If you volunteer somewhere, have you had issues like this? How did you work it out?


  1. Okay, I’m back. After the election I found myself floundering and looking for a way to make a difference. I work part-time and my boys are away at college so I have more time than you, but I completely relate to the need to find a good fit. I tried several things, including a shift at or local food bank and time at Sacred Heart, but it isn’t until I found Lifted Spirits, a drop in center for homeless women in my community that I felt like I was “home.” I connected with the other volunteers, valued the work, and was able to apply my experience as a professional home organizer, lover of clothes, college experience working retail, etc. into my volunteer work. Keep looking for that special something. You’ll know when you find it because it will feel right. Best of luck. Alys

  2. Lovely read! Wishing you all the best into 2019!

    If you like, I was going to link to your blog in my next Blogger Award post, as a way of connecting new readers together. There’s no need to take part in the personal quiz if you’d prefer not to, but would you like your blog signposted for new readers to check out?

  3. I love volunteering and agree you need to find a fit, but are sure you aren’t putting higher expectations on yourself the organization you are supporting? If you want to improve your Spanish, this will do it. Anyone who doesn’t speak English will appreciate your effort. Is there a list of potential volunteers lined up to take your place? Probably not. Have you tried talking this over with the people that run the organization? You may be surprised to find they think you are doing just fine! Good luck and thanks for volunteering!

    • I probably am, to be honest. Talking with the vol coordinator is something I thought of doing while I was writing this, so I guess this means I really should! Thanks so much for your input. :)

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