Why Do Women Volunteer?
  • Architects of Change

09/10/09 | Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. | 10 Comments

Sheil-Astrid-headshot.200x200.jpg
Astrid Sheil, Ph.D.

As of this year, September 11th will be recognized as National Day of Service and Remembrance. In this post, Astrid Sheil examines what motivates her -- and women in general -- to volunteer and "pass it on."

“You’re doing what? Are you crazy?” That was the response I got last week when I mentioned to a colleague of mine at Cal State University that I had volunteered for The Women’s Conference in October. She looked at me incredulously and said with a less than subtle hint of sarcasm in her voice, “You?? You -- who are writing a textbook and complaining about how far behind you are in producing chapters?? You -- who have consulting projects stacked to the ceiling? You -- a single mother of two kids?”
 
The truth is, I could not not volunteer. This got me thinking -- why do women volunteer? (I was going to say why do busy women volunteer, but then I realized, that’s redundant -- all women are busy!)
 
I had a few unformed ideas, but I decided to use a lifeline first and call my psychologist friend, Dr. Val Hannemann, in Flagstaff, Arizona.
 
“Val!” I caught her out of breath, as usual. She was hauling hay to feed her four horses. “Hey, I have a serious question for you -- why do women volunteer?” She took a few gulps of air, leaned against her fence, and replied, “Oh, there are as many reasons as there are horse flies on a salt lick.” There’s a charming analogy, I thought.
 
Val continued. “Women volunteer to make social contacts and expand their sense of community.” I liked that concept -- expanding their sense of community.
 
Val rambled on. “Women like to hang with other women who have similar interests. So for example, if you have a passion for scrapbooking and you can volunteer at a scrapbooking convention, you’re going to feel like a pig in --” “Mud?” I replied quickly and then asked, “What are some other reasons?”
 
I could hear Val reaching into the recesses of her Jungian-trained brain. She said, “Women are hard-wired to be engaged in their communities. Volunteering connects women. They share, they compare, and they adopt new strategies to make a difference in the world -- their world.” This certainly explains why The Women’s Conference is growing exponentially. Women from all strata and walks of life are coming to this year’s conference to share, compare, and adopt new strategies on how to be -- as First Lady, Maria Shriver describes it -- “Architects of Change” in their own lives and in the lives of others.
 
Thanking her profusely and wishing her the best with her hay bales and salt licks, I then called my 80-year-old Puerto Rican mother in Miami. “Mom!” I said, “I’m writing a blog for The Women’s Conference and I want your perspective of why women volunteer.” There was a long pause and then she said, “Hija, why are you riding a frog?”
 
“No, mom, not a frog—a blog…and I’m not riding it, I’m writing it!!” I shouted into the cell phone.  Carrumba!
 
Once I got mom past the blog part (which took way longer than I care to disclose), her answer to why women volunteer was simple and sweet: “We volunteer because we get back more than we give.” And then she added the kicker: “You feel better about everything because you are part of something bigger than yourself.”
 
Last year, I watched the streaming video online from my office in San Bernardino. (The Women’s Conference provides a webcast of the events for women who aren’t able to be there in-person.) I saw thousands of women listening to Governor Schwarzenegger and Chris Matthews wax rhapsodic about their wives. Even through my 13-inch monitor, I could feel the energy of the crowd, and I was mesmerized. There was no doubt that I would attend this year, but then something came over me when I visited the website -- and without hesitation, I signed up to be a volunteer.  I have never felt better about any decision I have ever made.

The momentum is already starting to build and I can’t wait for the conference to begin. Look for me down on the floor of the main hall.  I’ll be the 6 foot tall blonde Puerto Rican helping to turn up the wattage of possibilities for all women, who like my mother and myself, want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.


If you want to volunteer in your community, visit www.serve.gov to find out about opportunities.

For those of you who can’t attend The Women's Conference this year, join us online by visiting our homepage on October 26th and 27th.

Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications studies at Cal State University San Bernardino. Originally from Washington, DC, she graduated from Georgetown University. She will be covering the The Women's Conference in October.

10 Comments 10 Comments Digg Tweeter Facebook StumbleUpon Permalink Send To a Friend

Comments

  • Why do women do more aid/volunteer and philanthropy work than men? Why are female physicians more likely to go into lower paid but much more desperately needed general practice rather than high paid surgical specialties? Are men more greedy

    Posted by cryjan, 14 October 2009.

  • I realized working in activities that interest volunteers is a special privilege, and I have had that privilege many times in my career. Time is an ever more precious resource, so the link between what volunteers are accomplishing -- the individual beneficiaries and the societal benefits -- and the time and effort volunteers contribute is deeply significant. Your post goes beyond the who and what to the why, which I appreciate. I look forward to your notes from the conference in October. Thanks again.

    Posted by bobbac, 23 September 2009.

  • After all these years you are still so incredibly awesome. I will definitely be following your blog as you attend the conference.

    I have found that I enjoy the feeling at the end of the day - knowing that I gave this day everything I could give.

    Giving back is definitely the way to go.

    TD
    Habitat for Humanity International
    Senior Graphic Designer

    Posted by tdwright, 21 September 2009.

  • Thank you for reminding me that "we are the change" and that always means "get up and do something". As busy as my life is, volunteering has fulfilled me in more ways than I can put into words.

    I am coming to the conference, with a ticket only to the Village and Minervas and not the main event, so the thought of volunteering never crossed my mind. But as soon as I read this post, I sent in my form.

    What a great way to use the time I will have to share with other women at this event. Looking forward to the experience.
    Carolyn Moor
    Moor Alive Interiors

    Posted by Carolyn Moor, 20 September 2009.

  • Astrid! Great Blog - Congratulaitons.
    I would have written sooner but i have been too busy volunteering for family functions and community projects!
    Love you -
    Ellen

    Posted by Ellen Ulf, 16 September 2009.

  • Good blog. Your mom may be on to something.I think we all know it's good to volunteer. But by asking "why", we have to stop and look inside ourselves. Speaking for myself, it always makes me feel better. But now I think I know why. I could never put it into words but I think your mom did it for us pointing out that we're part of something bigger than ourselves.
    Thanks for the post.

    Liz Mendez

    Posted by Liz Mendez, 14 September 2009.

  • Excellent blog!
    I really enjoy your writing Astrid.
    Being a woman and a volunteer, I also appreciate your thoughtful contribution to this conference.
    I have often wondered what it is that draws us to service. My work provides me the opportunity to marvel at the accomplishments of women; as I interact with a substantial amount of them in the non-profit industry (my department alone is 19 women strong!). These circumstances have led me to believe that woman are innately driven to advocate for positive change. We create and contribute to the progression of our communities not just for ourselves, but for the betterment of every spirit it touches along the way.
    All the best,
    Audra

    Posted by AudraB, 14 September 2009.

  • Nice work, Astrid -- and good on ya for volunteering; a little sniffing 'round the web reveals that this conference is a pretty darned impactful thing.... Most impressive, and I look forward to reading/learning what takes place!

    Though, aren't men who volunteer also the beneficiaries of the same rewards of giving? Why solely "women" volunteers? It seems to me that "people" or "humans" or even "we" could take the place of the word "women" - we all have the opportunity to contribute to the quality of life on the planet.

    Granted; women are cooler and tougher and more mysterious and ultimately in charge, yes; I simply offer that the reasons and rewards aren't exclusive to women....

    I loved your post; and I'm proud of you for riding your frog.

    Posted by Kile Ozier, 12 September 2009.

  • Yes, Volunteering is so important. You will reak the benefits for a lifetime!

    Posted by urbanfrugalchic.com, 11 September 2009.

  • Thank you, Astrid, for a terrific post on why women volunteer. As a non-woman, I have to say my experiences -- politics, social service, public radio beg-a-thons, other typical suspects -- certainly prove up your thoughts, and those of your horse-feeding friend. Long ago I realized working in activities that interest volunteers is a special privilege, and I have had that privilege many times in my career. Time is an ever more precious resource, so the link between what volunteers are accomplishing -- the individual beneficiaries and the societal benefits -- and the time and effort volunteers contribute is deeply significant. Your post goes beyond the who and what to the why, which I appreciate. I look forward to your notes from the conference in October. Thanks again.

    Posted by Chris Robling, 11 September 2009.