You’d like to volunteer, but where to start?
Use these tips to help you find your best fit and start doing some good!
Mine Your Experience
Regardless of age, education, or career, we all have experience that can help others. Obviously, if your job involves skills that volunteer organizations need, you’ve got a head start. But if not (or if you want a break from your 9 - 5 role), don’t be discouraged!
Get a sheet of paper and jot down your hobbies and responsibilities. Do you cook dinner every night? Put up shelves in the kitchen and caulk the bathroom tiles? Maybe you’re devoted to yoga, easily help your kids understand their math homework, or play piano. If you examine the way you spend your time, you’ll probably notice skills you’ve taken for granted.
Check the Time
Many organizations depend on a committed group of volunteers to keep things running smoothly. Working with animals often involves a minimum time commitment, and homeless shelters may also need a roster of volunteers who can fill a recurring slot.
Other volunteering opportunities may be a monthly or yearly occurrence. Your church might send a group on an annual mission trip to a Habitat for Humanity build. Monthly service may mean bringing your guitar to the senior center the second Saturday of the month for a concert.
Ask yourself honestly how much time you can devote. Would you rather use a week of your vacation time on an immersive volunteering trip, or put in a few hours every Thursday?
How Close is Close Enough?
Volunteering is a powerful way to get to know people you might never meet otherwise. For many volunteers, working closely with other people is the biggest “feel good” aspect of their service experience. Some folks, on the other hand, may be intimidated by the prospect of spending a lot of time face-to-face with people they don’t know. And you know what? That’s fine, too. Introverts and extroverts can both make excellent volunteers in the right role.
Are you outgoing? Ask about front-facing positions: serving breakfast at a shelter, visiting shut-in residents at a nursing home, or even answering the phone may help your personality shine. If you’ve got music, art or academic skills, try leading a class at the senior center or tutoring at a school.
Introverts, don’t worry--I’m not suggesting you lurk in the back of the kitchen washing dishes. Ask about off-hours and quieter jobs. A shelter may prepare the next day’s lunches while the clients are out at work. Donations of food and clothing need to be catalogued and organized. Working with animals may also be a good fit for a volunteer who’s shy around people.
Hopefully, you know a little more now about your time and talents, as well as the kinds of positions that might fit you best. All that’s left is to get out there! There are plenty of people who will love what you have to give.
About the Author: Jessica Sillers is a Washington, DC-based writer. She has volunteered as a teacher's assistant in Faridabad, India, and on a farm in Ireland. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org