Between galas, a-thons, breakfasts, luncheons, special giving days, and donor recognition, many development pros and volunteers flame out if they don't take steps to stay engaged with their own mission. If you feel your fundraising batteries are running low, consider volunteering for the program you raise money for. I did and this experience got me fired up to get back to it.


The volunteers walked in quietly and I followed along behind. We had just received our orientation—a minor list of things to expect during our evening at this family shelter. I confess I was feeling a little shy. I was the volunteer and was supposed to know what to do, what to say, how to be—and I absolutely knew none of these things.

We were told that our homeless families would be there shortly for the night and that they might be a little hungry, so we busied ourselves with guessing what sorts of snacks to serve. I was accompanied by a young family—a mom and two of her young kids. When I bumbled about the kitchen, the young boy (about 9) and girl (about 12) quietly took charge. The girl decided a light sandwich was in order and began her preparations, taking her time to make them especially good. The boy, a pint-sized James Dean wearing a bomber jacket, jeans and slicked back hair, decided that the guests would like something fun to eat. He grabbed a package of Oreos and with flair began to stack the cookies in individual towers, eventually forming a smiley face.

The families began to file in, weary and quiet—and perhaps feeling a bit shy, too. As volunteers we waited with smiles, and a bit of anxiousness. For the hungrier among the shelter families, the sandwiches were a welcome sight, so the girl continued her production line, not rushing, just making them right. But those who wanted a treat got one, both in the tower of cookies and the sentiment they dared share—a smile. I watched as one by one, every person who took a piece of the smiley face returned it with a piece of their own.

If you want to know the right thing to do for those who are vulnerable and hurting, follow the lead of a child. Their wisdom and heart are so often greater than their years.