I have been thinking about volunteering quite a bit lately.  We just got done with the PIUG annual conference, which requires lots of volunteers.  Last week, I did 2 days of trail training at the local state park.  I am the trail boss for the local chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of Missouri (don't ask, it was a weak moment).  The training was about how to build and maintain sustainable trails.  There is reduced staff at the parks and they need volunteers to help with the trails.  Then last weekend, I took my horse to a dressage show, which requires volunteers.  Volunteers are getting harder to find, so it isn't just PIUG.  I volunteer because I have always felt that if I was going to participate then I needed to help out.  If I am going to ride the trails, then I need to help maintain them.  If I am going to shows, then I need to help run them.  If I am going to be part of PIUG, then I need to help with its activities.  I was shocked recently when a co-worker told me that her parents didn't believe in volunteering.  I have not yet followed up with her to see just why they objected to it.  That is a contrast to my parents who volunteered a lot.  My dad was on the school board and coached sports teams.  Mom helped build and maintain trails and was very active in her church. 

One of my frustrations with volunteer organizations is that they seem to run on the same bunch of volunteers until those burn out and then the next wave comes through.  I have always thought that if there was a broader base, we wouldn't have to burn people out.  I do have a rule though that if you are going to complain about something not getting done then you should step up and volunteer to do it!   There are so many volunteer jobs that don't require a huge commitment.  We would love to have folks to help us with marketing the organization.  We need people to help with social media.  We need help with committees, particularly someone with vision for our electronic communications.  You don't have to do the back end work just provide some vision.   Sometimes, we just need feedback.  We need the next board (elections are in 2020).  That is a bit more commitment.  I have not perfected the fine art of tapping people on the shoulder and asking them to volunteer.  I always hope that people will find some aspect that they are interested in and will step up to make a difference.  

I think about everything I have gotten out of volunteering.  Certainly there is no better feeling than riding along a trail that you helped build.  But I have learned management skills.  I have learned cat herding skills (running a volunteer organization is a serious cat herding job).  Oddly enough, my job requires a great deal of cat herding.  I have no actual authority but I have a great deal of influence (just like PIUG, etc.).  I have wonderful friendships from all of these activities.  I also like to think that I am making the world a better place for everyone.  There is a sense of community and a sense of building something together that is hard to replicate any other way.  

Part of the trail training was how to manage a volunteer activity.  Safety was a main concern (fortunately that doesn't come up too often at PIUG).  Appreciation was another key element.  I have tried to up our appreciation quota in the last couple of years.  Reasonable expectations were another.  You don't expect people to kill themselves working on the trails.  We don't expect huge commitments from everyone.  We do want you to fulfill your commitment or at least tell us when you can't do it, but you don't have to make it a full-time job. I appreciate anything someone does for PIUG.  It might be the equivalent of building 100 yards to brand new trail or it might be lopping some honeysuckle back but it is still appreciated.  I just like the sense of accomplishment.  I like seeing and riding on trails that I have built or maintained.  I like going to horse shows.  I like going to PIUG conferences and training.

So, find something you are passionate about and volunteer.  I can assure you that you will be glad you did.  And that everyone in PIUG will appreciate it.

Martha Yates

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  1. Well said Martha!