Donating time and talent usually involves more sacrifice than giving money. “Time is the only resource you can’t get back,” points out Marnie Maxell, an Indianapolis philanthropy consultant. “You can earn more money, but never more time.” Yet volunteers rarely command the attention or respect that mega-donors generate.
That’s not to suggest donors of dollars don’t also roll up their sleeves. Increasingly, most do. But women’s tradition of volunteering has long been undervalued and discounted. There’s still the myth out there that volunteers are ladies who lunch, groups of bored women searching for something to occupy their days.
Wrong! Recent research by David Reingold, a professor at the University of Indiana’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, reveals just the opposite. “The more women work, the more likely they are to volunteer,” says Reingold. “The gender differences that have been so present during the 20th century really are coming to an end. The stereotypical image of volunteering as a substitute for working by stay-at-home moms or retired grandmothers is simply not true anymore.”
These days, women volunteers are likely to be executives, doctors or lawyers like Almeta Cooper, who works as General Counsel for the Ohio State Medical Association in Columbus. “It was my daughter who got me interested in volunteering six years ago,” says Cooper. Then attending an all-girls high school (and now a graduate of Bryn Mawr), Elise was invited to participate in a project to introduce the girls to philanthropy, working with the YWCA and other groups.
“They toured some programs, got involved in grant-writing and conducted interviews with grantees — it was very exciting for them,” says Cooper, who divorced when Elise was five. “It was a valuable experience for her and I’ve since volunteered several times in fundraising campaigns, as a grants reader and other activities,” she says. Now that her daughter is grown, Cooper is doing more, in both time and money, mostly with the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio and also with the local chapter of The Links, Incorporated, an international group of professional African-American women volunteers who work for social change. “I believe women should get involved,” says Cooper. “I never turn down a request from the Women’s Fund because they train people to have an effective, structured plan and they give women and girls a voice.”
When considering any volunteer role, give yourself the freedom to review the options before you commit. “Because if you make a snap judgment,” says Maxwell, “you’re liable to find yourself at a meeting wondering why you’re wasting your most valuable resource: your time.”