If you want to get into volunteering, but you aren’t certain where to pitch in, here are seven questions to ask yourself prior to volunteering. Finding the organization that best fits your skills and schedule will take some research. The time you take for researching, however, will be well worthwhile when it leads to the right volunteer opportunity in which to invest your talents and energy.
1. What are my skills?
Community Service organizations utilize a wide skill set, so there are just as many community service ideas as there are organizations. When seeking to commit your time to volunteering it is important to identify what you have to offer.
Your options can be as diverse as an organizations needs. You can answer phones, enter data into an appropriate system or you could be passing out fliers, ladling soup or serving spaghetti.
So sometimes this question is both: What do you have to offer, and what do you want to offer?
2. What are my logistical requirements?
Any community service ideas you might have must be feasible in order to achieve them. Organizations require dependability, even if you can only come in to help once a month, it is important for the organizers to know the schedule you intend to keep.
So when consulting your list for ideas of how to participate in your community, remember to mention what time you really have to commit and how often. If the place you wish to volunteer is in the mountains and you are in the valley, you need to count the weather as a factor that might inhibit your participation in some months of the year.
Likewise distance, life events (weddings, work or academic conferences as might apply to your daily life) and other obligations must be factored in to build your availability.
(how far, how frequently you have to be there, scheduling commitments)
3. What duration works for me?
How many evenings, weekends, or days are you willing to commit to volunteering? Sometimes, the need for some form of income might influence the level of this commitment. Other times, volunteering can be committing yourself and your time to do something for an organization in order to build up your resume. On the other hand, volunteering can represent a way to give back to your community and enrich your life by building instant connections with others.
4. What’s my style?
Are you an instant gratification person, or does delay work?
Instant feedback or participation is evident when you participate in a soup kitchen, volunteer for a run, help construct schools in another country, and participate in a very hands-on way. But organizations require a lot of planning prior to hosting these sort of events and, if you can deal with delay, you can help the non-profit organize the events which instant-gratification volunteers participate in. The behind-the scenes work is very essential to the advancement of causes and fund raising. Non-profit organizations require as much involvement as any business, but the funds and services generally assist the cause established in the mission.
Whatever your knowledge set, or the level of involvement you wish to pursue, non-profits could use your participation. Consider what your style is while developing your community service ideas.
5. What do I believe in?
There are many organizations that help those in need. From health issues like breast cancer awareness, to childrens homes, and autism awareness organizations. To figure out where you want to spend your time, and select a non-profit you would be most likely to return to, choose a major area of interest.
This can be difficult. There areas so many causes, so many organizations doing wonderful things, that narrowing down the scope can be overwhelming. So as selfish as this may sound, pick something that relates to you. Perhaps you have experience teaching special education. The Special Olympics can always use volunteers, and they do some amazing things that help individuals’ self esteem in a meaningful and important way.
Perhaps this sounds more self-serving than volunteering should. However, when you volunteer for a cause that you believe in, you have the power to infect others with your enthusiasm. Suddenly, an organization that needs to spread awareness of MS has more volunteers than expected because you couldn’t stop talking about your involvement with the organization and just what wonderful things they were doing. You become the linchpin that makes the cause applicable to your coworkers.
This sort of enthusiastic volunteering makes a big difference in the non-profit’s promotion of their mission. So, when brainstorming, know what causes you wish to support before looking for the organizations working to advance that cause.
6. What type of non-profit am best suits me?
This question dove tails into “What do I believe in?” and “What are my skills?” But non-profits comprise a wide range of categories. The categories below seem to define the majority of organizations. The first three below are what we generally think of when we hear the word “charity:”
Health Awareness: Organizations that raise awareness for diseases, mental illnesses, and disorders.
Social Awareness: Organizations that raise awareness for social and political concerns, alcoholism, drunk driving, child abuse, animal abuse, drug abuse, marginalization of a subset of an urban population.
Services: These comprise hot-lines, health institutions available for individuals with a low income, providing food to the homeless, providing clothes to those who can’t buy it, or even volunteering in a thrift store that raises money for a non-profit or volunteer organization.
Less recognized are these options:
Education: Some non-profits help provide tutoring to students, run adult-literacy programs, music education programs, or physical education (like aqua aerobics for individuals over 50), while others are affiliated with supporting libraries, educational institutions, or otherwise educating the population. This is different from social awareness because social awareness organizations can raise funds directly for a non-profit. Education-based non-profits are arranged to provide knowledge to the community, or a subset of a population. These organizations fill a need that either public or private intuitions are not filling otherwise.
Literary: A nonprofit can be dedication to crafting publications, provided the publications are either free or drastically lower than a competitive price. Generally these non-profits are academic, issue-dependent, or affiliated with the promotion of marginalized genre.
Community and/or Church: Some non-profits are athletic clubs, arts clubs, are arranged to build community. This could be a non-profit organized around growing bonsai, or a Lutheran Bible Study. These organizations will have limited volunteering options, but should the bonsai club host a show at the local Japanese Buddhist Temple, or even a class, they might need more volunteers to assist with set up than they have members.
So based on your skills set and the amount of time and the style of volunteering you wish to provide, you could choose from any of the following organizations.
7. What does my research say?
Last but not least, when reviewing community service ideas, you should look at the research. All non-profits are companies, but some act like it more than others. By reviewing the website of your organization of choice, looking over any printed materials and checking up on how the non-profit is conducted you can decide if it’s your type of place.
If you want some good times, but are not interested in too much hard work, then your choices will be severely limited. The majority of non-profits require a level of dependability, and those that don’t are not acting like the business they are. Sometimes, for some organizations, this presents no problem. However, you should really have an idea of the sort of commitment, level of commitment, and needs of the organization before agreeing to volunteer.
When deciding where to apply your abilities, it is a good idea to know what to expect from your involvement with an organization. It’s rather like getting a job, but in reverse. Non-profits require volunteer participation because their funding is often limited. But the best volunteers–like the best workers in a for-profit–are those who want to be there. So be sure, when you are developing your community service ideas that the last step is making sure an organization fits you.
Photo credit: Be the Change, Inc
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