One of the challenges faced by dedicated volunteers is the perception of others as it pertains to the volunteer’s cause or mission. While many individuals, colleges and universities, potential employers, and more place value on a person’s commitment to volunteering and bettering their community, when the organization they volunteer for is controversial, the situation becomes a lot trickier.

What makes an organization or cause controversial?

A cause is typically controversial when large groups within society either believe the cause to be wrong (often on moral or ethical grounds) or they believe it is unnecessary. An organization may be considered controversial because either the cause itself is controversial or because its methods may be controversial. Controversial causes may include the following: abortion, the death penalty, war or military action, political parties, animal rights, religious organizations, and so on.

But sometimes causes that seem relatively universal (such as cancer or victims of sexual assault) may not be as widely supported as you assume. Certainly almost everyone believes in helping those who are victims of domestic violence but there is a wide range of thought as to the best ways to support victims, consequences for the perpetrator of violence, the impact of domestic violence on children, and so on. Unfortunately, when a cause you care about is controversial (even if the controversy is within a supported cause), you may discover that some people take issue with your volunteerism.

The tactics and means used by organizations can also be controversial. Consider the example of war protests; to some people, an organization protesting a war at the National Mall in Washington, DC may be entirely different from protesting a war at the funeral of a fallen soldier. Be aware that even if people share your opinions about the nature of a cause, they may not support the actions taken by a particular group.

What can someone do if they’d don’t like my cause or organization?

Because volunteering is typically reserved for issues that are important to the volunteer, it is likely that people may judge you for the work that you do. In many cases, this is a good thing since most people tend to like volunteers. In the case of controversial activities, some people may judge you negatively because they disagree with your position or actions. If you’re applying for school or an employment opportunity, the person reviewing your application may decide that you are not a good fit for what they do. Alternatively, if they happen to agree with your stance, they may respond more positively to you because they appreciate the risk that you take when being honest about your controversial work.

If you are not applying for school or a job, you will most likely just have to deal with friends and family, many of whom may disagree with you. As with most of life, these people tend to have whatever power or control over you that you give them, so they may try to make your life miserable or they may simply learned to deal with it based on how you handle them.

But I believe in what I’m doing.

Great! If you feel strongly about the volunteer work that you are doing, continuous pursuing that volunteer opportunity. It is important however that you understand and plan for the fact that some people are going to disagree with you or even hold it against you that you do what you do. Choose wisely if and when to tell people about your work and respond appropriately. But remember that it’s a rare thing indeed to find someone who regrets standing up for what they believe in.