If you are interested in being a volunteer, it’s important to think about how you can get the most out of your experience. Ask yourself what you hope to gain from volunteering. Is it experience for a future job or to improve your resume? Is it something you want to do for personal satisfaction? Is it a way to interact with other people with similar interests?
In order to gain any or all of these things, you must also think about what you are prepared to give. If you do not have the time to volunteer, you can give money directly to an organization whose mission you wish to support. Some employers have specific charities they encourage employees to support. They may match donations to those charities. Other companies may offer paid time off for volunteering.
Decide What Kind of Experience You Want
Get a clear idea of what type of volunteering opportunities would be best for you based on personality and skills. Do you want to:
- Work directly with people or work behind the scenes?
- Use the expertise you already have or learn new skills?
- Work on local or global issues?
Think about what you're good at doing, what your interests are, and what kind of projects you enjoy. If you like writing, for example, you may be able to help an organization with its written materials, such as newsletters. If you are talented at event planning, you might be able to help organize events and fund-raisers or take on administrative tasks.
If you identify the things you want to avoid as a volunteer, you will be happier in the projects you do eventually choose.
What Issue Do You Want to Support?
To find the right organization, you first need to decide what issue you would like to support.
You should select an issue that is meaningful to you and reflects your ideals and values. If you are passionate about a subject, you will be a more involved volunteer.
When choosing an issue, you may want to consider the emotional toll it may take. Working as a volunteer in some settings can be traumatic. Be sure you won't become too burned out to continue if you choose an opportunity that provokes a strong emotional response.
Decide on Your Commitment
It’s important to decide how much time and energy you can realistically put into volunteering. When you commit to volunteering, the organization depends on your efforts to help it achieve its goals.
While it can be very tempting to over-commit in the beginning, don’t do it. Start small and see what kind of follow-through you can offer. You can always add extra duties or hours later.
- How much time can you commit? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly?
- Volunteer regularly or as-needed?
Where to Volunteer
After you have decided what issue you want to support, you can start to look at organizations or projects. While most people look for something in their community, there are national and international volunteer opportunities also available. Several resources for finding volunteer opportunities include Serve.gov, volunteer.gov, and VolunteerMatch.org.
Research Your Choices
Find out more information about the organizations that interest you. Use charity watchdog groups' web sites to check on organizations, go to the charity web site, or call to get more information. For most organizations, you will need to contact a volunteer coordinator who can tell you about volunteering with the organization and get you started once you decide where to volunteer.
- What are the program's goals?
- Do my ideals and values match the organization's?
- What are their volunteer needs?
- How do their needs and your skills and interests coincide?
- What are their requirements for being a volunteer? (Many positions, especially those working with children, require a background check.)
- What is the required training, if any?
- Will there be travel or associated fees required?
- What are the time commitments they are looking for?
Consider your needs before volunteering. The closer the match, the more satisfying and meaningful your volunteer experience will be.