Giving Up on Altruism
Is it truly altruism if you’re getting intangible benefits such as resume-building experience, connections and friendships, or even personal fulfillment?
Very few of my friends are involved in non-profits in a volunteer leadership capacity. They may have volunteered in the past, but they’re concerned with their jobs, their families, or they’re just being protective of their personal time. They already feel too busy and don’t see how volunteering could possibly benefit them. Sure, it’s a noble cause, but once you graduate college and get into the real world noble causes go right out the window. Right?
A few months ago, I was interviewed for a magazine article on Generation Y non-profit leaders. One of the questions was “how do you convince Generation Y to get involved in a leadership role?”
The answer falls somewhere between engagement in the cause and selfish, personal interest.
Selfishness is the opposite of altruism. Giving is supposed to be pure, for the benefit of the cause alone. Or so you might be told.
Organizations send donor receipts clearly stating that the donor has not received any material benefit for their donation. If there’s a thank you gift, the value of the gift has to be taken out of the tax-deductible amount.
But what about intangible benefits? How about the satisfaction of making a difference? It’s entirely possible get hooked on the high of helping someone else. Is that wrong?
Still, there are even more selfish benefits of volunteering, and those are often the reasons people get involved with non-profits.
For millennials early in their careers, the opportunity to stretch their skill sets, work on big projects, and network with more connected and powerful professionals can be a very attractive proposition. Sure, it’s hard work but it can pay off – especially when you don’t get a chance to do these at your regular job.
Personally, my volunteer service has helped me get promotions and new opportunities. I’ve been asked to work on projects in finance, human relations, fundraising, strategic planning, public relations, marketing, and a number of other professional skills. Because the non-profit organizations had a need and I volunteered, I got to add these to my repertoire long before my day job ever gave me the opportunity.
Volunteering also puts the rest of my work in perspective. The daily dramas of a cranky client or colleague are nothing compared to the highs and lows of a cause you care about. Defusing an angry parent in a custody dispute or watching a camper make a personal breakthrough are far more memorable and important in the grand scheme of my life.
So back to the title topic: Is it truly altruism if you’re getting intangible benefits such as resume-building experience, connections and friendships, or even personal fulfillment?
From my vantage point, who cares?