One of the major aspects of volunteering is that it should contribute positively to the world. (Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash)

Volunteer activities, such as membership on a board, should, ideally, last five years. During the first year, one is relatively clueless, and contributes little productive. There is a steep, year long learning curve. During the second and third years, one is into an energetic, innovative period. One experiments. Some things actually work in this period, while others fail. The fourth and fifth years represent an optimal period of activity, and leadership. One is actually able to mentor others. Beyond these years, one’s activity level gradually sinks, as one becoming tired of everything, and the activity becomes habitual. It is time to get out and do something new.

It is necessary to create a system so that volunteers can easily scale their commitment. This includes creating a visible exit strategy, that is always available. Commitments need to be at low intervals OR one can commit to a limited period for more intensive activity. This should increase the number of people involved, even if it does result a more arbitrary attendance.

Every activity should have six characteristics. It should be fun, meaningful, an opportunity to learn something new, social, an opportunity to eat food together, and end up with a feeling of mastery. It should also avoid emulating other parts of the regular daily/ weekly/ seasonal/ annual rhythm, especially school, family, sports and other commitment-focused cultural activities.

This entire blog is based on material sent to me by Alasdair McLellan. Thank you, Alasdair.

Volunteering and other 2nd class words

In a comment to another post, I mentioned that I would be working up to one day a week at Hastighet, a technology workshop. The type of work that I would be doing would be very similar to that which I have done throughout my life – teaching.

The difficulty with using the term work is that there are assumptions baked into it. Work is paid work. Except, it isn’t always. Let’s take a real world example. In homes throughout the world, people work to clean bathrooms, to prepare and serve meals, to read stories to children. It is probably safe to say that most people do not employ hired staff to have these tasks performed.

If one moves outside the family/household, other adjectives come into play. Volunteer work implies that the work is unpaid. An even more poignant example is to to talk about an unpaid internship. It seems clear that an intern (like the volunteer) is inferior in some way, because they are working without pay, and people are forced to label themselves with these job titles.

I don’t want distinctions made between unpaid work, and other forms of work, where people are paid. Work is work. Similarly, I don’t want to see people labeled in terms of their income status. I find it offensive when nametags prominently display, Volunteer.

Job titles should indicate a persons level and area of competence. Senior street cleaner, junior brain surgeon and deputy assistant manager have both of these characteristics, which is fine. Sometimes, it may also be appropriate to indicate that the person is undergoing training, as in apprentice cabinet maker or management trainee.

What should be done about volunteerism?

One solution is to ensure that all work is paid, although I am unsure who is going to pay me for washing the dishes, shoveling the snow or writing a blog post.

An alternative solution is to ensure that no work is paid, that everyone receives a basic income. The challenge with this approach is that while there may be a lot of people wanting to work as CEOs, there could be less people choosing to work as pipe fitters at the local sewage works.

Perhaps the most appropriate approach world be to pay people according to the inverse popularity of the job. So while CEOs work for minimum wage, pipe fitters at the local sewage works receive supplemental income payments.

What is clear at the moment is that taking an unpaid internship is unhealthy. If nothing else, it damages long-term income prospects. An unpaid intern is identified as a loser, and will be treated as such. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/jul/29/unpaid-intern-damage-graduate-career-pay