Why Do Web Professionals Volunteer and Give Back?

I’m starting to learn that what web site professionals produce may be closely related to their personal character. For example, if you are the giver type, this is what we see from you online. If you are a taker type, this is obvious as well in the kinds of web sites you associate with.

Incentive

I live in a small, country town. The last census in 2000 showed a population under 9000. I know it’s more than that now because more and more people have discovered this little spot of paradise and chosen to live here too.

One of the reasons I fell in love with my town is the way the people give back to it. I’ve never seen such dedication anywhere else, and I’ve lived in many other places. I first discovered how special the town planners are when my children were little and I needed a town that was safe, family friendly and community oriented. My Realtor is someone I hug every time I see him. He’s helped me buy two houses and rent one from an uncle of his. I’ve sat with him on my back deck, over beer, and listened to his tales of the town gossip, both of us in tears we’re laughing so hard.

I got involved in promoting midwives, breastfeeding, stay at home moms, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and even helped the High School start a web design program for students and the public. I built the first web site for one of the Elementary schools. This was all volunteer “work”. I was support for my Realtor who wanted to teach himself how to build his own website. I never charged money for that.

I wrote letters to the local newspaper Editors exposing the horror of insurance companies that forced women out of the hospital hours after delivering their baby. My son wouldn’t take a bottle and they tried to force him to stay in the hospital because he hadn’t proven his bladder worked, and they were ready to discharge me without him. I asked them to put me in jail. I was ready to break their insane laws. Fortunately, at the last possible minute, he came through and delivered what they wanted and I got to take him home.

I wrote letters of support for midwifery because those of us who used midwives had to drive an hour or more, in labor, to get to the hospitals that permitted them to practice there. Today, the health insurance laws for new mothers are changed and one of the local hospitals actually promotes its midwifery staff, because they’re so popular with families.

In other words, I care about what’s happening around me. I’m aware. I help make positive changes. It feels good, but it’s one of those things that happens and nobody would know it unless they read this blog or are a personal friend.

Giving back can be done quietly and with small gestures or in a publicity show like entertainers who donate their time and money to causes.

Apply Your Skills to Help Those Around You

Now that my kids are older, I still find ways to give back to the town because my town has given so much to them.

My son, for example, is very active in several sports. Coaches have shown strong interest in him during his entire life so far. I decided to thank them by volunteering for two athletic organization web sites. Nearly every weekend I work on the busiest one, which is for the town’s Little League program. I’m the lead Webmaster for a team of 4 people, none of us paid. It’s a big operation, with a database, Board of Directors and of course, tons of kids and parents who rely on the information we provide on the web site.

And then there’s Cre8asiteforums, which is entirely volunteer run and maintained. It wouldn’t survive if not for the devotion of the moderators and community. In my mind, they are all giving people.

Some of them offer their free time on other websites too. There are church sites, especially, built and tended to by volunteers. There are barter situations. I still maintain a site I built for a friend who died while waiting for a new liver that never came. His widow continued his ministry and earns a living in social work and workshops that help people deal with grief. I would never dream of charging her. She calls me her “angel” and that’s enough for me.

It occurred to me today, as I was uploading pictures of nine year olds who won second place in a local baseball tournament, that this is what I’m about. I can tell it’s noticed by my children. I see signs they too, are learning to do things for no other reason than it feels good, right, fair or considerate.

But Why Do This?

What they may not know is something I’m slowly putting together myself.

I grew up unwanted (because I was born a girl) and feeling unworthy because when you’re not wanted, one reaction is to keep fighting to prove you exist. In my case, I became an overachiever. My husband says, “Kim, you don’t just work. You WORK,” and the emphasis surprises me because in my mind, this is what’s expected from me.

It’s proof I’m here. That I belong. Real core stuff. The kind that’s no fun looking at.

The problem is that this validation, the proof, comes from the outside. There has to be approval for the validation to work. This is why overachievers do what they do. They’ll kill themselves to get the bosses approval, that raise, or better position because it’s proof their contributions are noticed and appreciated. It’s not aways possible to be detached when we know we did something well. It’s not always possible to leave out the ego either.

Volunteering is more or less a thankless job, but it feels good when it comes from your heart. Certainly you may need to be your own cheerleader or learn to believe nobody else’s opinion matters but your own. I’m still trying to learn this part. I read today that women always tend to blame themselves and internalize that blame. Yep. I do that too.

I wonder why people volunteer their time. Is it to challenge yourself? Is it your way of giving something back? Do you expect to get something back if you do? Do you learn new things by volunteering?

I think the hardest part is accepting that what you do may not be acknowledged, or worse, noticed at all. I walk around the baseball and football fields knowing what I do for those organizations and I’m really proud of my work, but unless someone is on the Board of Directors or a parent on my son’s teams, nobody knows who I am, or that I’m the one who just uploaded their team’s pictures.

Maybe that’s how it should be.

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