Blood, bone-marrow, breast-milk, or good old-fashioned cash. Most people I know donate something on a regular basis, or have done so at least once in the past. I was a regular blood-donor, until a life-saving transfusion meant I could no longer donate. Ah, the irony. When funds were more plentiful I sponsored a child, set up standing orders for two charities close to my heart, and always had a pocketful of change to drop in a busker’s hat.
Nowadays my own children eat through my income like locusts through a cornfield, and the spare change I once scattered so liberally is carefully collected from pockets and bedside tables to ease us towards the end of the month. But I have time. Lots of time. Instead of a fifty-hour week and an hour’s commute, with reports to read at home, and a vibrating Blackberry, I work twenty hours from home, with my phone on silent. I earn the same, but with less stress. I work smarter, not harder.
I am fortunate to be in this position, and as I’m not the sort of person who can comfortably spend time loafing around sipping Pina Coladas and watching Homes Under The Hammer (although, did you see how much they paid for that two-bed in Durham? Incredible), I donate my spare time. I have become addicted to volunteering. Time expands in a way that cash doesn’t, and there always seems to be another hour in the week if I really need it.
I spend half of Monday in my children’s school, supporting ICT teaching, and I have just committed to running a free creative writing after-school club for children from years five and six. I am Vice-President and newsletter-writer for a WI I helped set up a couple of years ago, and a Trustee and Director of Chipping Norton Literary Festival. I write a quarterly newsletter for an amazing charity called Emma’s Trust, and do various bits and pieces for community groups and other local charities.
Volunteering, like other forms of donation, is rarely entirely altruistic. Of course I want to help the children I support at school, and of course I am committed to the educational aims of the literary festival. But I enjoy it, and that’s the bottom line. Like the feel-good glow you get from knowing someone on the streets is going to eat something hot tonight, I get a buzz from knowing my spare time has made a difference. Still more selfishly, I enjoy the mental stimulation. I gave up a career which required constant dynamic decision-making and presented strategic challenges on a daily basis. I love writing, but if my most difficult decision was whether to replace a comma with a semi-colon I would begin a slow mental decline. Securing funding for a literary festival, managing a team and bringing a project in on time and under budget? That’s more like it.
Almost everyone can donate something. I know that’s a sweeping statement, but whether it’s twenty pence in a collection bucket, or an hour a week spent reading the papers to retirement home residents, I think few people can genuinely say they can’t do it. And those who can’t? Well, that’s precisely why we need people who can.