How to Find the Perfect Volunteer Position For You

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

  1. 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.
  2.  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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Practical Considerations

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nine Surprising Benefits of Volunteering

My wife and I visited Aspen, Colorado last week for leaf-peeping season.  While on the way, we planned to stop at the Hot Springs Pool in Glenwood Springs.  Year round, visitors to the Springs seek respite in the 3.5 million gallons of 124 degree Fahrenheit water that emanate from the Earth daily.

I was inspired while soaking in the mineral-laden waters, realizing that this experience held many parallels to volunteerism.  Here’s how:

1) Anticipation

After an early morning flight, and a ninety minute drive through the Colorado landscape, I was ready to take a plunge into the warm waters.  It had been twenty years since I last visited the hot springs.  I was eager to relax in the pool.

Volunteering can be exhilarating, too.  Anticipating moments in service, looking ahead to sharing our time and talents, builds excitement and enthusiasm for many volunteers.

2) Investment

The off-season entry fee for visiting the hot springs still exceeded thirty dollars for two.  We gladly paid it. This was not just a quick swim in the valley, but an investment in our well-being.

Volunteering also requires an investment.  We give our head, heart and hands graciously to the benefit of a cause.

3) Unique Inspiration

Children splashed in the shallow end of the pool.  Some adults swam laps.  Others sat in the bubble chairs in the hottest part of the pool.  Groups gathered to socialize while enjoying the restorative effects of the spa.  It was apparent that people came to the springs for a variety of reasons.

Volunteers also bring their own unique set of intrinsic motivators to their time in service.  These drivers compel each of us to do what we do.  Ideally, these internal needs, wants and desires are aligned with our service roles to optimize fulfillment for the volunteer.

4) Varied Origins

People of many different ages, shapes and sizes converged on the pool deck.  Many different languages were heard across the water’s surface.  We pondered how visitors from around the globe heard of, or found this remote locale in the Rockies.

Volunteers come from their own special place, too.  They each bring with them a unique set of knowledge, skills, experiences, talents and gifts.  Applying these gifts in service makes volunteerism come alive.  Leveraging their unique gifts stirs passion in the giver.

5) Community

Families and friends arrived to enjoy the pool.  Groups of bathers clustered in corners of the hot springs, sharing in conversation and laughter.  People enjoyed the experience together.

Serving with others in community elevates the volunteer experience.  Sharing best practices, learning from each other, working elbow-to-elbow, growing together are all part of a bonding experience that brings people closer.

6) Healing Power

For thousands of years, the nomadic Nuche (Ute) tribe frequented the Yumpa hot springs, believing in its power to heal.  Today, many visitors claim that common aches and pains are relieved by soaking in nature’s waters.

Some who choose to serve offer their gifts to comfort others.  Volunteers make a difference in the health and well-being of others through all cycles of life.  The act of serving has its own curative power, too.  Volunteerism can be prescriptive.  Doing good deeds can be restorative to the soul.

7) Exhausting, Yet Rejuvenating

After two hours in the hot springs, I was beyond relaxed.  I was wiped out.  As tired as I was, I also felt invigorated by my time in the warm waters.  Maybe there is some truth to the pool’s healing effects.

When done well, volunteering can be exhausting, too.  Physical fatigue is easily overcome by the warmth of having done good works.  Serving is inspiring.  Volunteerism brings rejuvenation to the spirit.

8) A Lasting Feeling

Nature’s waters at the hot springs leave a mineral residue on your skin.  This uncommon sensation begs for a post-dip shower.  Yet, it’s the minerals inherent in the water that make the swim experience different.

Offering our time and talents can also bring a lasting feeling of gratification.  Fulfillment lingers far beyond the service moment, enriching the volunteer in meaningful ways.  This residual feeling inspires future service.

9) Desire to Do It Again    

The fond memory of my time at the Glenwood Springs Hot Springs pool is crystal.  I am ready to go back!  I am so glad we made time for this experience!

When a volunteer is well supported by an organization and its leaders, they often describe a similar feeling.  Meaningful volunteerism begets volunteerism.  Being a part of something good makes people want to return.

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An alternative to ice bucketers and slacktivists

On Tuesday, I challenged the idea that ice bucketing could really make a difference in the world. Today, I want to keep that convo going, and explain why I’d take 100 dedicated volunteers over 10,000 slacktivists any day of the week. Once we’ve chatted about that, I want to get practical and shoot you some top tips for engaging volunteers who are anti-slacktivists (that’s to say – they’re volunteers committed to action – volunteers you’ll keep around for longer than a tweet).

So I have three main reasons for preferring anti-slactivists over ice bucketers: first, I can be confident that a volunteer who believes in genuine activism will have taken the time to understand my organization’s mission. Second, if they believe in genuine activism, they’ll do just that by becoming actively engaged with my non-profit. Finally, genuine activists know that social change takes time, so they’ll stick around long past the latest fad.    

By now, you’re probably saying ‘sure Josh, that’s all well and good, but volunteers like this are like non-profit’s version of the unicorn – they exist in fantasy, but not in real life…’  I understand that feeling – truly I do, but the fact is, this breed of dedicated volunteer can be found and engaged with. I know because I’ve done it as a volunteer coordinator, and I know you can too if you focus on a few of the tips I have for you below. Implement these strategies, and I promise you’ll engage volunteers who will generate lasting impact.

1.) Recruit at local businesses that connect with your mission. This is one of the most underutilized tactics for volunteer recruitment, yet it is one of the most powerful. Think of it this way – your non-profit has certain goals that will undoubtedly align well with the professional goals of employees in your area. For example, Habitat recruited me by targeting the company I was working for – they came to our office, presented Habitat’s mission, and explained that by coaching Habitat families on their finances we could grow both personally and professionally. The volunteer position aligned well with my professional skills, so I accepted. The result was a 7 year volunteer relationship with Habitat that I continue to this day. I just don’t believe this kind of a relationship is possible if you can’t find a way to link up with a volunteer’s personal and/or professional goals. The best way to do this is by thinking about the employees and companies in your area who have skills that naturally align with your mission. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box! Toyota and the New York City Food Bank wouldn’t seem like natural partners, but check out this article to see why it was actually a match made in heaven!

2.) Take the time to understand a potential volunteer’s motivations. This is where you draw the line between slacktivists and activists – I believe the majority of ice-bucketers were motivated more by a social event than by commitment to a cause. Sadly, many potential volunteers become interested and come talk to you due to these same social pressures (e.g. their friends are doing it, so they feel obligated). Be careful to sniff these folks out and politely direct them to keep exploring for an opportunity that fits them. I know you need help now, but trust me – you’ll be much happier if you take the time to find genuine activists who are dedicated to your cause for the right reasons.

3.) Link up with local civic organizations. Organizations, such as Rotary, are full of service minded individuals. The catch is – for people who are part of such organizations, it’s a near guarantee that they’ll be wicked busy. To combat this, you will have to find ways to share your story so that they see how it aligns with the goals they hoped to accomplish by joining the civic club. Also, I’m using Rotary just as an example here – it will be important to find the organization(s) that have some kind of a tie into the work you’re doing (e.g. Kiwanis is heavily dedicated to children’s causes).

4.) Don’t be afraid to tell em’ no. I know this one is hard, and honestly, in my first years as a volunteer coordinator, I basically never turned away a volunteer. ‘You want to volunteer here?? Sure! We could use all the help we can get!!’ That’s what I’d always say…(you’ve said it too, right??? 🙂 but what I finally realized was that my being a ‘yes man’ was contributing to heavy turn over, high costs for my non-profit, and worse of all – the kids we were serving we being hurt by mentors who were leaving too quickly. I couldn’t allow that, so I got a whole lot better about telling prospective volunteers ‘no’ when I knew this wasn’t the fit for them. Always be polite about it, and always encourage them to search for something that is a better fit, but also know that by saying no when you need to, you are actually protecting the people you serve. Putting a laser focus on the types of volunteers you need and saying no to those for whom your movement doesn’t fit is the best way to build a dedicated team of change agents.

5.) Remember that its more about quality than quantity. The ice-bucket challenge has boasted some massive numbers on all fronts – money, tweets, shares, etc… but what about the quality of the campaign? How many slacktivists will stay involved with ALS? What will this actually do to eradicate the disease? Personally, I’d rather be able to brag that I had a ‘small’ group of extremely thoughtful and committed volunteers. I would rather brag about the time my volunteers had spent on our cause (e.g. our average volunteer stays for 5 years, volunteering an average of 2 hours per week), rather than the number of tweets and funds I had generated. And most importantly – I would rather brag about the lasting impact my volunteers had made upon the lives my non-profit is working to change.

How have you brought genuine activists into your organization? What can you do to attract them? Please answer these questions in the comment box below…

 

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Project Homeless Connect

Everyone knows that the homeless is tough subject. People help out everyday though by going to shelters to feed, donating clothes, and giving money out of their pockets. There is one nonprofit that has gone above and beyond in order to help the less unfortunate. Project Homeless Connect KC was created to “connect homeless Kansas Citians with the care they need to move their lives forward.”

Project Homeless Connect was originally created in 2004 by the San Francisco Department of Health. Since then, it has spread over 260 cities, including Kansas City. They improve access to services such as dental care, eyeglasses, housing, food, medical care, and more. By banding together other nonprofits, corporations, and government agencies, Project Homeless Connect is able to create unity throughout organizations in the metro area.

The first annual event for Kansas City will be October 10 at Gregg/Klice Community Center at 17th and Paseo, in Kansas City, Missouri. They are still looking for organizations and volunteers to help. If you are interested in helping, please sign up online via VolunteerMark:

Volunteer Now

October 10th, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Many shifts available to choose from!

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Volunteers finding new ways to barn raise

“I’m so disappointed with the way the world has become,” my grandfather told me. “I don’t know what happened to the values of my generation.”

Do people even care or help anymore? I’ve asked myself this several times since that talk and a more jaded part of me agrees with him. Nowadays, I think a young boy would probably be less inclined to help an old lady cross a street than when my grandpa was young.

Why has helping others changed? Or should the question be — how has helping others changed?

Trend 1: Building dikes is better than giving likes

The future of volunteering is shifting towards online. Like it or lump it, an ever-increasing amount of young people (34-year-olds and younger) spend the bulk of their attention in a virtual world. Because of that, research shows the Internet is becoming the most efficient place to tell a company’s story, engage future clients or volunteers and collect donations.

However, many skeptics continue to heckle that notion.

“Traditionalists have labeled online volunteering and engagement as “slacktivism” because you can complete your service from your couch, in your pajamas,” Tracy Hoover wrote at USAToday.com. “But as the service movement evolves, we should acknowledge that, in many cases, the greatest asset a volunteer can offer is his or her ability to quickly mobilize thousands of Facebook friends or Twitter followers to raise awareness or dollars and to inspire action.”

In my opinion, while we may be tempted to disregard social media evangelists as not really furthering the cause, we couldn’t be more wrong. Solitary drops of service don’t trump ripples. Any help is good help.

Trend 2: Pro-bono and skills-based volunteering

Also, as funding continues to decrease, volunteers are increasingly depended upon to help nonprofits meet their needs.

Luckily, whole companies are responding, donating their manpower and skills.

“More than 500 companies across the country, from the largest in the Fortune 100 to the smallest sole proprietorships, have committed to provide more than $2 billion worth of skills-based volunteer services to help nonprofits address critical community priorities at home and around the world,” Points of Light stated in 2013.

Professional volunteers are especially vital because they can offer skills often lacking in nonprofit organizations. That’s important because while 72% of nonprofits desire corporate volunteer help, only 62% actually work with them, and only 12% of agencies actually match roles to skills according to Points of Light.

Clearly, the gap of organizations that need specific skills and those that can provide them remains huge. Fortunately, some organizations make it easy to offer specific expertise, such as CatchaFire.org and VolunteerMark.com.

Trend 3: Money spending equals power

More empowering than volunteering, one less-conventional trend of giving help is through “purchasing power,” or spending money where it counts. When organizations partner with causes by donating part or all of their proceeds to nonprofits, magic happens.

The effort gives quarterly bottom lines new meaning and consumers get the satisfaction of buying more than just sandals or soccer balls.

Moving forward, our goal should be embracing reinvention. Mobilizing people to do what they want and love to do in ways that directly benefit our causes. But how?

Start by using software that manages practicals so you can focus on what you love to do, not what you have to do. Secondly, invite people to volunteer in the way that best fits them.

Overall, life is always redefining itself and volunteering is no exception. In the past, helping centered around physically assisting someone with a need. In 2014, people still help in that matter, but the barn raising just looks a little different.

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Finding Your Place

I have to be a hero to help. I have to be perfect to be useful. I have to have my act together. We might not realize we believe this, or that it holds us back from offering our help, but I’m convinced that too often it is.  

Last week we introduced Tate Williams and his story of working with The Global Orphan Project.

Williams described his role as being an advocate for those who do hands-on orphan care: a caregiver of caregivers. I asked why this is so needed, and his response resonated with me profoundly.

 “We turn people who participate in things like orphan care into either superheroes or crazies.”

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What this does, Williams said, is isolate. It creates an “us and them” mentality.

“You’re doing this really hard thing. You’re up on this pedestal; I can’t interact with you, so I’m not even going to try.”

Pedestals may be fancy, but they’re incredibly lonely. Pedestals make the people giving care believe that they have to live up to this “Hero” status. So they don’t share their needs; which in turn cuts them off from support and resources.

Lastly, pedestals isolate the rest of us as well. Williams said the “hero myth” makes the rest us who want to help in smaller ways, believe that we have nothing to offer.

 “Who can be the hero? The good looking, really well thought of individual, who is killing themselves to do it.”

William’s goal is to take orphan care and move it away from the relegated few, to a community, group effort. To help churches figure out everyone can have a place, and contribute.  

So, if the natural tendency is to put people on pedestals, the new goal must be to bring them to the kitchen table. Kitchens are gritty and messy. Soup spills, dogs eat, pans soak in suds. They are also the intimate heart of the family. 

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But how do we do this? How do we as nonprofits and individuals avoid isolation and bring people to the table? 

  1. Value authenticity
    The only way to debunk the hero myth is to let people be human, who sometimes say stupid things, and wear sweats. By valuing authenticity we teach people not to be ashamed of their weakness and to ask for what they need.

  2. Establish an Advocate
    People doing intensive care or volunteering need a go between. To avoid feeling like whiny “problem people” they need someone below executive/high-leadership level that will see their needs, and advocate for them.

  3. Celebrate the Mechanic
    I love William’s community model. This can only be done when we value the mundane as much as we value the glamorous.

“The people who care for orphans in their homes shouldn’t be more celebrated than the people who babysit, bring a meal, mow the yard, or fix the tub. Let’s celebrate that! Because the givers want to celebrate it, and the receivers really want to celebrate it.” 

What I love most about kitchen tables is that someone belongs in every spot. Causes like orphan care are tables that we all belong at.

What does your seat look like?

– Anna Spady, anna.spady@gmail.com

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MLK Day 2014: Photo Gallery

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There was just five of us, but that didn’t matter. The beauty of community service is that every little bit helps. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2014 was no different.

Over a hour’s time on Jan. 20, three of our Park Hill South high school volunteers and two others were able to collect eight bags of trash at Ermine Case Jr. Park in downtown Kansas City. As Dr. King once said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.

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Feature Friday- Mike Deathe

Every other Friday we will feature a different volunteer.  If you would like to participate, please email me at katie@volunteermark.com.  Thanks!

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It takes a great person to be an avid volunteer, and we have a great guy for you today!  Mike Deathe is an avid pet lover who found his passion as a dog trainer in 2008. Since then he has trained hundreds of pet parents on how to live with their companion animals. He writes the keep it simple stupid dog blog (K.I.S.S.) and is a resident expert for Petocracy. He authored The Book of Pee and Poop, and Forever Home — Dog 101 and How to be a Better Shelter Volunteer. Mike is also co-host of the radio show It Happens. Mike has two great kids, Donovan and Dylan, who keep him busy when the four dogs and a cat are not J Mike’s biggest passion besides his kids, four legged and two, is helping folks just like you get a better understanding of just what your pooch is trying to tell you day in and day out!

He started volunteering simply to help people out.  “I’ve always believed in sending good stuff out into the world,” said Mike, “The more good stuff you send out, the more good stuff comes back to you.”  He executes that belief by volunteering at a few of his favorite organizations:  Humane Society of Greater KC (KSGKC) and Harvesters Local Elementary Schools with his dog Leo (they are a READ team).

Volunteering has made quite an impact in Mike’s life.  One of the best ways it benefits him is the change he has seen in his boys, Donovan and Dylan.  By watching him volunteer, they have started asking to volunteer themselves at food drives, for Boy Scouts, etc.  It also benefits him when he makes presentations at the HSGKC and can see the wheels start to turn.  He really loves seeing the excitement of the volunteers wanting to go make a difference in the dogs’ lives at the shelter and being able to give those volunteers the tools they need to help them help dogs find forever homes.

You can visit Mike at his blog: KISS Blog, or his website: KISS Dog Training.  Also, don’t forget to check out his books on Amazon.  (I’ve had the honor to start reading them and I highly recommend them!)

I’ll leave you with a quote from Mike:  “Every person in the world has a passion.  The question is, will you find a way to help others while enjoying your passion?”

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