How many times a week do we hear the rallying cry of the 1990s from friends -- "If I only had time." To paraphrase Satchel Paige, it seems that the hurrier we go, the behinder we get.
With each of our personal and professional worlds spinning ever faster, there is never time to do what we want. That's especially true for charitable efforts. Many of us feel guilty over our inability to manage our time and to budget blocks of volunteer time.
A few weeks ago, a colleague with Catholic Charities' Project AWARE shared with me a neat little handout, targeted to the harried '90s professional. Titled, "If Only I Had Time . . . A Wish List," it gives the reader some volunteer activities that can be done in small blocks of time.
Have only 15 minutes between dropping off one kid at soccer practice and picking up the other from piano class? Write a note to a legislator about a favorite charity and its program needs. Call a friend and make a bet, with the loser making a donation to a designated charity.
Or stop at the grocery store, use your biggest cents-off coupon, and buy some laundry detergent for a homeless shelter.
In today's frenetic world, we need positive approaches toward volunteerism that are rooted in reality. We no longer have a vast resource of homemakers for 12 hours a week of volunteer activities. We need to develop ways so many people can volunteer.
Have 30 minutes? Bake a casserole for a homeless shelter. Shop for one grocery bag worth of staples, such as decaffeinated coffee, pasta and sauce, and canned goods.
In just one hour a month, you could visit a resident of a nursing home, or mentor a troubled youth. Can't do it because you're stuck downtown at work all day?
How about walking over to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen and serve a meal over your lunch hour? You might even try to get your racquetball crowd to volunteer as a group once a month.
If you have two hours a month, you and your son or daughter could get up early on a Saturday and clean a neighborhood park.
At Christmas or Hanukkah, you could wrap presents for any one of several charities that provide gifts for the needy.
In the spring, you could take the family to spring-clean the facilities of a favorite charity. You could even wash some windows, a chore that seems to perennially get relegated to the bottom of the "to-do" list.
The point here is that you do not have to have large blocks of time to help a favorite cause. More and more organizations understand the time pressures facing working people and are dividing tasks into ones that are achievable in small time increments.
Some even encourage you to take work home. A family of four could address a powerful lot of envelopes for a small charity on a Sunday afternoon. It's a togetherness event that most families cherish. It might also trigger discussions about the work of the charity.
Nonprofits hope that such efforts will encourage additional volunteer activities.
If you wish you could do more charitable work, but can't imagine
how you can squeeze in the time, take one of those 15-minute breaks and call the director of your favorite charity.
Ask if they have thought about small tasks that can be done at home or in short time increments. If family activities are something you value, find out if the organization has developed volunteer activities that help get a family working together.
If they have no such programs, ask if they would welcome ideas. If they do, generate a list, mail it to them, and congratulate yourself. You've just done your first 60-minute stint.
(Lester A. Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921;  392-3160.)