The best part of volunteering? There is something for everyone. There are positions open for every interest, every age group, and every community! This being the case, I always encourage people to go out there and think about what they enjoy doing, and translate that into improving the quality of life for someone else, and bring awareness to social issues affecting our community.
I struggled a lot when I first started volunteering. I didn’t think I had anything to offer, and there seemed to be too many choices for me to settle on just one. So how does one person decide what they should dedicate their time to? Here are some suggestions to get you started figuring out how you can help your community. Do you have some suggestions of your own? Leave a comment and help others along! Now…
Let’s Get Started
Catalog your Interests
What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies? What are your goals? Ask yourself these questions and start making a list. It doesn’t have to be spelled correctly, bulleted nicely, or even typed out, it’s a brainstorming session. Once you have a good sized list, do some research and find local organizations or groups that have a similar focus and seek out contact information. Don’t worry if you can’t find a contact in your area, chances are that even if you call an organization in another state, they will be more than willing to let you know how you could either help them ‘virtually’ or put you in touch with a point person or local chapter closer in proximity. Make sure it is something that interests you…you won’t last 10 minutes doing data entry when your real passion is hiking and being outdoors, so get involved with something you love!
Consider your Skill Set
I don’t care if you are an expert grass mower or a world renowned surgeon. Your skills are an art, and someone out there needs you! You wouldn’t want to spend all of your time teaching city kids to play baseball when you are better at soccer, so be sure to carefully evaluate your skills before you commit to an opportunity. Do what comes naturally to you and build on that as you grow!
Work your Network
You know what they say…sometimes it’s who you know more than what you know. Looking for an ‘in’ at a local organization? Talk to your contacts or search your LinkedIn network and see if they might be willing to connect you with someone that could be of assistance. Don’t discount the people you don’t know either…there is no better way to get information than by going to the source. Take a drive down to a local organizations office, or attend an event they are hosting. Almost every organization or cause has someone in charge of volunteers, and 99% of the time this person is required to be at all events the organization puts on. Take a look around and inquire who the Volunteer Coordinator is. Even the least experienced volunteer there can tell you who directed them to their ‘spot’!
Timing is Everything
One of the most important pieces of advice I can give someone is to remember not to over-commit (I have a hard time heeding that advice sometimes!), and to consider your schedule realistically so you don’t let yourself (or the organization) down. Be confident in your choice before making a commitment. Before making a decision to participate, ask yourself some questions:
- Are you looking for a one-time opportunity or a long-term commitment?
- What type of time commitment are you willing to make? How much time do you realistically have to give?
- Are there times of the day/week that work better than others?
Time commitments may not be as formal as you expect. Make sure to ask what your responsibilities would be, and the time commitment expected for members/volunteers and take that in to consideration when finding the right opportunity.
Find your Opportunity
Once you’ve decided what types of skills you are willing to offer and how much time you are willing to commit, you are ready to get out there and look for opportunities that might fit the bill. We have listed many opportunities on the Flower City Philanthropy website, but you will also find additional links to websites, books, and materials in this post that can help your search.
- Volunteer Resumes: For a first time volunteer or someone looking to move on to different volunteer positions, creating a Volunteer Resume will help organizations understand how you can be of assistance and who you have helped in the past. It will also help them get a good feel for who you are and where you are best placed in their program. We’ll talk about creating a volunteer resume in a future blog post, but for now, you can start by taking your current resume and revamping it to show both skills and community involvement (or interests, for newbies), in place of the more traditional work experience portion. When applying for a volunteer position, bring this along with you, as well as a copy of your traditional resume…they’ll work together to present a great picture of you!
- Interviewing/Soliciting: Get out there and ask for more information. Remember to treat these information gathering sessions like a true job interview. Make sure you are well versed in the organization’s goals, mission and recent initiatives, and provide examples of how you can add value by bringing something to the table. If you have involvement with other organizations that represent certain areas, that’s a great topic! Don’t get discouraged if the opportunity turns out to not be a good fit, it happens. Give it your best and thank them for the opportunity, when it’s done you can reevaluate what you did or did not like and make a better informed decision for your next volunteer opportunity.
On Your First Day
Everyone is nervous on their first day volunteering. Even seasoned volunteers that are helping out in a new capacity or at a new organization have some nerves! Here are some tips to help your first day go smoothly:
- Know where you are going. Make Google Maps your friend, and print out a copy of the directions to the organization. We hate using excess paper, but if your phone dies you will be glad you have it!
- Be Prepared for your role. Ask questions about the appropriate attire so you can come dressed appropriately. You don’t want to show up in high heels or dress pants if you are sorting food at a food bank! Also consider bringing a small notepad and writing utensil in case you have questions or see a need for notes when you are volunteering.
- Know your contacts. Make a note of the email and phone number of the key contacts where you are volunteering. If you can’t make it, or you will be late, give as much notice as possible. If you cannot come at all, reschedule as soon as possible.
- Arrive early. I would recommend arriving about 15 minutes early for your starting shift (unless otherwise specified). This will give you time to familiarize yourself with the building or your role and to fill out any paperwork you might need to do for your first day.
- Do your best. No one is perfect, but you’ve done a great job landing your perfect volunteer job, so give it your whole heart even if its not as exciting as you thought. The organization will thank you for it, and you will leave knowing you gave it your all!
- Say Thank You. Following your volunteer shift, take the time to send an email (or better, a real card!) to your volunteer contact thanking them for the opportunity. If you have questions on how to do the job better next time, ask now!
- Repeat. Admit it, you felt that philanthropic buzz didn’t you? Get out there and do it again!