If we simply think about ourselves, our stress and our problems and what we have to deal with, we miss the greater view of life. It is not simply us. It is our community. It is all of us. We are one member of this humanity. . . .We must always think of others at the same time we think of ourselves.
This is Stephen Goldman, M.D., a highly successful and extremely busy cardiologist in Pasco County, Florida, explaining what volunteering means to him in a video I shot a couple of years ago in Steve’s office. Thinking about the superb podcast on trends in volunteering that Mick Fleming and Susan Robertson recorded for extraordinaryceo.com, I recalled Steve’s video, which has to do with what you might call the spiritual dimension of volunteering.
In this deeply moving video, Steve reflects on his pro bono work for over 20 years with the Good Samaritan Health Clinic of Pasco County. Steve is not only a founding father of Good Sam, but he spent seven years as its volunteer medical director and is a long-time member of the Good Sam Board, which he has chaired for several years.
Volunteering is the lifeblood of the Clinic, which plays a critical role in the Pasco County community. With a small staff and no federal or state funding, Good Sam provides medical and dental services to County residents who are under 65 years old, uninsured and ineligible for Medicaid. Without Steve and many other volunteers – physicians, dentists, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, and clerical staff – Good Sam wouldn’t even exist. It goes without saying that Pasco County would be the poorer, in terms of the community’s diminished quality of life.
But during our filming session in his office, Steve pointed out that the impacts of volunteering at Good Sam include not only healthier low-income residents of Pasco County, but also spiritually richer volunteers, who have chosen to raise their sights beyond their own stresses and problems – to embrace the wider community they’re part of. Steve and his Good Sam volunteers aren’t alone, of course. Volunteering has long been part of the fabric of American life, and my work with nonprofits around the country of all shapes and sizes has educated me on the immense contribution hands-on volunteering has made to the success of nonprofit organizations like Good Sam.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s not always easy to volunteer, as many of you have probably experienced. Unlike true volunteer-driven and focused organizations like Good Sam and the Peace Corps, which is now almost 55 years old, many nonprofits aren’t prepared to make productive use of your time, even though they really need your help. And keep in mind that Steve Goldman didn’t just step into a well-defined volunteer position at the Good Samaritan Health Clinic that would put his valuable medical expertise to work. He couldn’t hit the ground running because there wasn’t any ground to run on. Steve and his fellow founding fathers and mothers rolled up their sleeves and created the organization they ultimately donated their time to. That’s a dramatic case, but you should get ready, when you put on your volunteer hat, to put up with a good dollop of frustration, and you might have to get into the business of organizational development. If so, it’ll be worth the effort, believe me – and Steve!