Posted by: Mark Tayar | June 27, 2009

Are you wasting time volunteering?

I was recently on holiday in Hawaii and the first thing I did there was help build a playground. Now most of the people who know me would find this hard to believe. I’m the last person to want to do any kind of manual labour, and my work in social entrepreneurship is more about training than about building stuff. The truth is, I had to be dragged their by my friend who lives there on Oahu.

As I was breaking up rock with a pick axe for the first time in my life, I thought to myself: “couldn’t I have more impact doing what I know?” I could have helped them fundraise, trained their staff, developed and implemented a marketing plan, and… [insert other awesome skills here]. But instead I was spending hours breaking rocks. I don’t want to upset the hard working volunteers and staff at Kaboom who buildĀ  great playgrounds so kids in the US can be happier, but these are the facts:

  • Your time is limited
  • You have a limited set of competencies
  • Time spent using these competencies is time spent efficiently
  • If you volunteer your time to do tasks outside of your competencies, you are wasting your time

So please, if you are going to volunteer, stick to what you do well and have a bigger impact on your chosen charity.

No one would believe that I would do manual labour so I had this photo taken to prove it.

No one would believe that I would do manual labour so I had this photo taken to prove it.



  1. I agree to a point thay you should play to your strengths however exposure to how it is in the field is vital. Literally getting your hands dirty gives you a far greater understanding of the ‘why’ of your chosen NGO and will lead to more appropriate actions in the office. Seeing the impact you have on peoples lives also helps with your personal motivational levels. Development work is fustrating with many obsticles, remembering the time that you experienced the ‘why’ helps you refocus.

  2. Yeah I think you are right Jen, getting dirty is both a powerful metaphor and real literal experience for really getting involved. Too often we see a detachment between NGO head office and their field officers.

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