If you’re like me, you’ll find that many people struggle with how to volunteer. There are many opportunities to serve lots of different organizations, so it can seem daunting for someone who wants to “get involved.” Depending on the type of organization you volunteer with, I’ve found at least one way to work through this – just make it part of your everyday life. As an example, the only volunteering time I spend is with the same Iraqi family every week. They relocated here about a year ago with very little English and a limited understanding of our culture. If I simply allotted a number of hours per week to teach them English or help them apply for jobs, that would be good, but it wouldn’t really make serving that family an integral part of my life. It would simply be a part of my weekly routine. Now, I still do that, because in many ways, it’s important to have that routine. BUT, the thing that makes it all gel is that I don’t separate my service to this family from my everyday life. For example – a few months back, I went with some friends to a vineyard, and invited one of the Iraqi family members I work with. He is my age, his English is vastly improved, and he’s just generally a fun guy. We had a blast with him and my friends! Now, anytime I’m doing something that makes sense to invite them to, I do. Not out of a sense of obligation, but because I want to. It’s fun for everyone – me, my friends, and the family.
The best way to “get involved” is not only to find one cause that has meaning for you, but to find a cause that will easily flow through many other aspects of your life. Unfortunately, we (and I say we because I’ve done this several times…) oftentimes dedicate ourselves to causes that are difficult to weave through other areas of our lives. Changing this will change the way we serve our communities.
What does the above story mean for us as volunteer coordinators? It means that the interview and getting to know prospective volunteers, their skills, and their motivations is absolutely critical because it allows you to weave your opportunities in with the daily lives of your volunteers. It is for this reason that we at Volunteermark place such a tremendous emphasis on guiding volunteers through the process of creating a profile. This is a required process for anyone signing on to volunteer through us – and for our coordinators, it provides an incredibly valuable window into the background of a prospective volunteer. Without this information, how can you hope to engage the existing skills of prospective volunteers?? The answer is, you cannot. So you have to develop a process for getting to know the unique skills, background, and lifestyle that EACH volunteer brings to the table – only then will you be able to engage them in a way that causes volunteerism to impact their daily life.
As always – I want to have a discussion around this – so I’ll leave you with a few questions for the answering in the comment box right below (don’t worry, just answering one question is great! 🙂 – what systems do you have in place for getting to know your volunteers? How do you tailor volunteer opportunities to match the professional background of your volunteers? How can we, as coordinators, commit ourselves to making volunteering a part of everyday life for our communities?