Have a little (or a lot) of time on your hands?
Want to put it to good use? Be a volunteer!
How to get started
Believe it or not, being a volunteer may be one of the most challenging yet rewarding things you ever do. But before you start, ask yourself two very simple questions:
- How much time do I have available to volunteer? Be realistic. It’s okay to start off slow (an hour or two a week) and work up to something more significant IF you can. Be honest with yourself and decide what you can do in addition to your other home, work and community responsibilities.
- Can I commit? If you are going to make a commitment to a volunteer organization, make sure you can follow through! Organizations that rely on volunteers need to know you will show up consistently and honor your time commitments. Great volunteers have a zero flake factor!
Finding the Right Organization
Now that you’ve figured out how much time you have to volunteer and have made a commitment to honor that time, now you need to find the right opportunity for you. Think about it like dating – what organization is your perfect match?
- What are you passionate about? Do you love animals? Technology? Little kids and/or older adults? The outdoors?
- What type of personality to you have? Are you outgoing and like to be around a lot of people? Do you find your energy in small groups or focusing on more quiet, thoughtful tasks?
- What skills do you bring to the table? Do you like to teach? Are you really good with computers? Are you an organizer? Do you like to write or work with numbers?
Once you’ve answered these questions, thinking honestly about each one, you can develop your Volunteer Profile.
Profile examples might include:
- “I’m a smart, outgoing, 20-something who loves the outdoors. I’m physically active and support wilderness conservation. I’m a strong leader and am very good at organizing groups of people.”
- “I’m a quiet retiree who loves to sit and chat with people of all ages. I was an English teacher in my past life and still enjoy helping students with writing and reading. I’m great with the computer and have done quite a bit of tutoring. I’m also quite good on the phone.”
- “I’m a 7th grade student and I enjoy little kids and helping people. I’m a Girl Scout and enjoy arts & crafts and reading. I created a “mother’s helper tool kit” that I take with me when babysitting.”
Using your profile, you can start to narrow your organization search to find one that would be a good fit. Try and find a couple. Not all organizations will be in a position to immediately take on new volunteers. Be patient, your perfect match is out there!
Applying for the Position
Don’t be put off if an organization has an application process. While most organizations are eager to find volunteer help, they have to be careful when accepting the services you offer. If you contact an organization with an offer to volunteer your time, you may be asked to come in for an interview, fill out a volunteer application, or describe your qualifications and your background just as you would at an interview for a paying job. It is in the organization’s interest and more beneficial to the people it serves to make certain you have the skills needed, that you are truly committed to doing the work. Furthermore, in volunteer work involving children or other at-risk populations, there may be legal ramifications for the organization to consider. Once you’ve applied, check in with the organization to set up a meeting or answer any questions they may have. Don’t wait for someone to call you!
Tips for Being a Great Volunteer
Amazing volunteers think less about what they can get from the experience of volunteering and more about what they can contribute. Keep the following tips in mind when embarking on your volunteer journey.
- Bring energy and enthusiasm. The number one thing you can bring to the table is all that energy you have stored somewhere inside you! Bring your GSD (Get Stuff Done) attitude every day! When you are enthusiastic about a cause, your energy will be contagious and spread to others. You will not only feel fantastic, but you will find that your positive spirit can motivate others to take action towards the cause as well.
- Be passionately professional. People bring their best to work, so they should bring their best to their volunteer effort. When you align your passions with your volunteer work, the most uninteresting tasks can be brought into a whole new light. When you become passionate about the cause and the organization is when your work is going to have the biggest impact.
- Stay flexible. Organizations often recruit volunteers for roles of all kind. It might be using your hard-earned, high-level skills one day, and packing boxes the next. Your willingness to jump in and help with any tasks that may arise will open doors to new experiences and allow you to make a difference in a variety of ways!
- Be grateful. Extend gratitude to an organization for any training or professional development you receive while volunteering. Be aware of the commitment your organization is making to you.
- Be a constant champion. Great volunteers have no off switch. They always find a way to spread the word. It may be as simple as asking their friends to follow their organization on Twitter, Facebook or Linked-in.
- Be part of the team. The world is very rarely changed by just one person. Instead it’s the collective efforts of a group of committed, energetic, creative, and mindful individuals, working together that makes the difference. Stay friendly, respect all opinions, and be compassionate and you can achieve something wonderful with your team!
When in Doubt, Consider Virtual Volunteering?
Yes, there is such a thing! This sort of volunteering might be well suited to you if you have limited time or a non-traditional work schedule, no transportation, or a physical disability that precludes you from getting about freely. If you have computer access and the necessary skills, some organizations now offer the opportunity to do volunteer work over the computer. This might take the form of giving free legal advice, typing a college term paper for a person with a disability, or simply keeping in contact with a shut-in who has e-mail. Virtual volunteering can also be a way for you to give time if you simply enjoy computers and want to employ your computer skills in your volunteer work