People consider the idea of volunteering for many reasons. Some retirees like to fill their time with meaningful work. Often, students need to fulfill a class credit. Others are simply looking for experiences that help them “give back” in some way to their community, place of worship or from a sense of responsibility.
Whatever your motivation, deciding to donate your time and energy is a wonderful, worthwhile and generous act.
What to do and where to do it?
The great news is, there are hundreds (yes, hundreds) of opportunities out there and just as many volunteer coordinators who’d love to have your help. In other words, you are in the driver’s seat here, so take your time making a decision.
Four Questions You Need to Ask Yourself
- What moves you? What are the issues that get you charged up emotionally? These could be anything from shelter dogs to kids not being able to read to environmental and social causes. The more you align your efforts with a cause you’re passionate about, the more likely you’ll find the work rewarding.
- What subjects are you drawn to? Do you love history? Perhaps you’d be great at introducing children to great works at the art museum or guiding tourists through a historic site. Do you lose yourself in cooking? Consider meal prep at a local soup kitchen. The key to being happy in a volunteer role is honing in on roles and responsibilities that intersect with your interests.
- Would you like to apply your skills or talent to a volunteer position? Are you a great writer or graphic designer? Organizations always need volunteers to create newsletters, social media content and press releases. If you’re awesome at organizing, help organizations in the office. Do you speak another language? Use your Spanish, Russian or other language to help organizations better communicate with the people they serve.
- What have you always dreamed of doing, learning or exploring? Maybe you’ve never had the chance to get dirt under your fingernails planting a garden, or you’ve dreamed of working at a nature center. Has the idea of volunteering at a hospital or working with seniors always been in the back of your mind? Volunteering allows you to have new experiences and connect with more like-minded people in your community.
The options are wide open, and all you need to do is click through the listings on a site like VolunteerMark.com to realize how many rewarding opportunities are waiting for you out there.
Now that you’ve formulated some ideas about what you’d love to do, you’ll want to consider some of the nuts and bolts questions.
How much time can you/are you willing to devote to volunteering? Most organizations are willing to work with their volunteers to “fit in” with life’s demands. Think about whether you’re looking to volunteer once a week, once a month—or if you’d prefer to be “on call” or take on one-time assignments. Every organization’s needs are different, and they appreciate the fact that you’re giving them a gift of your time. Don’t be afraid to let them know your limits.
Do you want to work one-on-one or be part of a group? For some people, one of the rewarding aspects of volunteering is sharing the experience with a group. That might be cleaning litter from a stream or performing repair work on the homes of elderly residents, for example. For others, it’s the one-on-one experience that’s most satisfying, whether it’s tutoring a young student, reading to hospitalized children or manning the shampoo station at the local shelter.
Taking the Next Step
VolunteerMark.com works with organizers and posts opportunities for people of all ages, skills and interests. Once you’ve landed on a few good options and completed the initial outreach forms, you can expect to be contacted by those organizations for a phone or in-person interview.
No need to be intimidated—this is a chance to get to know the organization better and let them get to know you. There will likely be paperwork to complete and, depending on the nature of the work, you might need to sign a confidentiality statement, receive some specialized training, take a tuberculosis test or show proof of auto insurance. If you’re under 18, you may be asked to have a parent or guardian sign additional permission forms.
You Are Needed!
There are numerous organizations in need of your time, energy and talent. Volunteering can be one of the most fulfilling experiences you can have in your life—as you give to others, you receive wonderful emotional rewards in return. It’s a win-win.
One last note-organizations and agencies, because they run lean and are always in need of extra hands, may be a bit slow to respond to you once you signal your interest. Don’t be afraid to be the squeaky wheel—call them and let them know you’re ready and willing to help them out.
Good luck with your volunteering search, and thank you for caring enough to give of yourself and your time!