An Ode to Volunteerism

Volunteerism is at the heart of The Mountaineers. John Dunlap, a volunteer from Olympia, shares his beautiful take on why volunteering with The Mountaineers is a unique benefit of the club.
Sara Ramsay Sara Ramsay
Education Manager
October 17, 2017
An Ode to Volunteerism

In the process of writing a recent blog on committee volunteerism, I shared an email conversation with John Dunlap from the Olympia Branch about volunteering with The Mountaineers. John is a five year member who supports several committees, including Olympia’s Scrambling and Sea Kayaking Committees. When I asked John about his experience supporting committee work and volunteering with The Mountaineers, his response took me by surprise - in a very good way.

As someone who’s thought about volunteerism a lot, I found John’s insight into the club’s culture – and the way he bridges the core values of community and volunteerism – both inspiring and refreshing. His “wandering thoughts”, as he put it, speak for themselves, and his perspective makes me proud to be a Mountaineer:

“I have a somewhat different take on volunteering, particularly in The Mountaineers. I'm involved as a leader, course leader, instructor, and committee member. I often hear others in similar roles talk about 'giving back', 'making a contribution', or otherwise sacrificing for the benefit of the club and its members. But my personal experience, and my observations of others, is that our actual motivations are largely self-serving.

"We devote time and effort to things we enjoy. Lots of us really enjoy teaching. This is common among people who have been motivated enough to gain skills and knowledge - they like to share their passions with others. Lots of our volunteers are seeking social engagement centered around common values and goals. And of course, most of us find gratification in feeling the appreciation of others we have helped.

I see very little "sacrifice" in our volunteer activities, and that's fine.  It's good for everyone when volunteers themselves benefit in the process of contributing. It's much more self-sustaining.

"I see the roles of instructor, leader, and various committee positions as being additional benefits/opportunities provided by the club. They are another reason to belong to the club, not a cost that must somehow be paid. The courses offered are almost entirely the courses that individual volunteers want to teach. I know of several "needs" for instruction that will probably never be met because the volunteer energy and willingness for those subjects just isn't there. Again, that's fine.

"We often talk about our volunteer "capacity" - just how much time and energy do our skilled member have to contribute? This is what determines what the club has to offer, not top-level analyses of member needs (not to say that such analyses have no value). The beauty of it is that self-aware, self-interest drives the whole system. This isn't true in all volunteer environments. Many volunteers do unpleasant, harmful tasks because the needs are great.

I see The Mountaineers differently. We are a self-selected group who share an interest in collaborative outdoor education and participation. No one is forced to be part of us.  

"If we are honest we recognize that most of what we do is about 'luxuries' - recreation and improving the quality of our society. So my take is that many people contribute to the on-going functioning of our club, and they do so largely to enjoy the benefits that come from being valued members of a community of shared values."


I hope that you enjoy John’s take on volunteerism as much as I do, and that you consider opting in to this incredible community!

Are you feeling inspired to get involved with your committee? Please contact your Activity Chair, Branch Chair, or one of our Education Managers, Sara Ramsay or Steve Smith, to learn about needs, opportunities, expectations, and time commitment! We need to keep the 111 year tradition of volunteerism alive, for that’s who we are at our core, as The Mountaineers. Many hands make light work.

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Josephine Johnson
Josephine Johnson says:
Oct 17, 2017 06:11 PM

I've had the privilege of co-leading with John and climbing with him independently. It is leaders like John that make me especially happy to be involved with the Mountaineers. His words ring true with me . . . we volunteer because we love the activities, we love to teach, we love to serve. To do so with an eye to what we get out of it, other than the joy of service and enjoying the outdoors, would be doing a huge disservice to ourselves and to the organization. I'll climb with John any day . . . and I look forward to learning from him in his selfless, wonderful way. Thank you, John, and to all the other volunteers who have shared their knowledge, time, and energies with me. This past year has been a blast!