When I used to run a youth entrepreneurship program, I would frequently venture onto the nearby Penn campus to recruit student volunteers. Far from appealing to their bleeding hearts, I unashamedly spoke to their resume-building brains (and those of you sports fans out there will forgive me as I channel Hubie Brown):
"OK, you're an incoming Wharton freshman from Great Neck. You want to get a good education, make friends, have a good time. But you also want to get involved in other, extra-curricular activities. Maybe it's to pad your resume, maybe it's out of the goodness of your heart. Whatever the reason, you're thinking, 'Maybe I want to serve. Maybe I want to connect with West Philadelphia while I'm here for four years. Maybe I want to work with kids. Maybe I want to apply my classroom skills in a real-world setting. Maybe I want to immerse myself in an entrepreneurial setting. Maybe I want to learn what it's like to work in an office.' Hey, that's six 'maybe's!' Instead of doing six different things, why don't you consider giving The Enterprise Center some of your time every month."
In other words, I've always thought you'd get more, better, and more committed volunteering if you helped people understand how helping others could also help themselves. I think it's in this spirit that organizations like the Taproot Foundation are trying to give people outside of the legal profession a category for pro bono work. After all, non-profits need more than legal services; they may need your IT, graphic design, budgeting skills. And in an economy when really skilled people have a lot of time on their hands and are trying to stay sharp and build networks, volunteerism is way up.
I'm glad to see that, as the dollars are getting scarcer and the future getting murkier, there are channels out there to help people get beyond themselves and lend a hand to people and organizations that can use their skills. This has happily been an American phenomenon through the years, and one I'm happy to see it continue circa 2009.