Deciding to become a volunteer is the first step toward an experience that is sure to offer you as many benefits as you are offering to those you help. Get ready for new relationships, self-fulfillment, skill-building opportunities and more, all from the simple act of volunteering.
To get the most out of volunteering, the best position will challenge you, utilize your strengths, fit your time restraints and be of interest to you. This offers the organization with which you volunteer your strengths, while you get to further your interests: a win-win situation. Use the following information to discover why volunteering is so beneficial and to find the right volunteer opportunity for you.
- The Hidden Benefits of Volunteering
- Four Questions to Ask Yourself
- Finding Volunteer Opportunities
- Getting Others Involved
- A Different Type of Volunteer
The Hidden Benefits of Volunteering
If the simple act of helping others is not a selling point for becoming a volunteer, consider the many benefits volunteers experience: feelings of self-fulfillment, numerous growth opportunities, increased social awareness, an expanded social circle, newfound self-confidence, better health and the discovery of hidden talents and strengths.
Additionally, being a volunteer enhances professional opportunities. You will develop and enhance skills, gain new experience and increase your networking contacts. It also is a great way for students to get professional work experience while building a résumé.
Four Questions to Ask Yourself
Once you have decided that you are interested in becoming a volunteer, take some time to choose an organization or project that best fits your needs. Ask yourself:
- What do you enjoy doing? By extending a hobby or interest into a volunteer position, you will be able to participate in an activity you understand and enjoy, helping others along the way. For almost every activity you can imagine, there is a need for a volunteer.
- How often do you want to volunteer? Any amount of volunteering is helpful, but certain volunteer activities will require a longer period of commitment. If you only have a few days a year available, do not volunteer for an ongoing project that requires weekly input. Be honest with the amount of time to which you can commit; others will be relying on you to fulfill your role.
- How do you work best? Some people excel as part of a team; others do their best work on their own. Some people prefer to lead a group, while others would rather receive instructions. Pick the scenario you enjoy and in which you work best.
- What do you want out of it? People volunteer for different reasons: to help those in need; to fill a belief or purpose; to bring themselves joy and peace. By deciding what is your purpose in volunteering, you can better decide what type of position and organization will fit your needs and wants.
Finding Volunteer Opportunities
There are so many volunteer positions available that a new search may be overwhelming. A simple way to begin your search is to start big (think national or international), working your way down to local opportunities.
- Look up websites for federal volunteer programs, or call the headquarters of national and international non-profit organizations.
- Contact your state or city government office for a list of regional volunteer programs.
- Read the newspaper. Corporate-sponsored events such as charity walks and runs usually are advertised in local papers, and the events section also may offer names of charities or non-profits that are throwing events.
- Check with your local colleges and school systems. Typically there is a board for flyers indicating volunteer positions that need to be filled, both on- and off-campus.
- Ask at your place of worship. Many religious affiliations associate themselves with charitable causes.
- Ask your neighbors, friends and co-workers. People are likely to know of others who volunteer their time somewhere.
- Go to a local store that specializes in your interests. Your hardware store may know of low-income housing that needs to be built; your bookstore may run a literacy program; your grocer can point you to a Meals-On-Wheels contact. Opportunities to help others are everywhere; you just need to ask.
Getting Others Involved
Volunteering as part of a group can be very beneficial: it helps build team awareness; it can make the first few steps in becoming a volunteer less daunting than if on one’s own; it can help build social skills; and it offers support from others to continue. If you want to encourage others to volunteer with you, try these suggestions:
- Talk with your human-resources manager about a company-wide volunteer project. This could be a Saturday spent painting houses, helping out at a kitchen pantry or answering phones for a local charity drive.
- Sign up your family. Volunteering as a family unit can be educational, fun and help build stronger family bonds.
- Get the neighborhood together. Helping out a local charity is fun and productive when everyone pitches in. A group garage sale, sponsoring a needy family or gathering food to help feed those less fortunate are all ways to offer a neighborhood’s services.
A Different Type of Volunteer
When people think of volunteering, they may think only of feeding the homeless. However, there are so many different types of volunteer opportunities out there today that most everyone can find an interesting, challenging way to volunteer their skills. Some inventive volunteer positions include the following examples:
- Virtual volunteering. This is a convenient way to offer your time and abilities, especially for those with limited transportation options. Virtual volunteers should have reliable Internet access, solid written communication skills, a self-motivated personality and be capable of making and keeping project deadlines.
- Volunteer vacations. Want to combine a love of adventure and travel with helping others? Try a volunteer vacation, in which you help others while traveling to another location. High-school and college students often participate in volunteer trips during spring break.
- Charity bike rides and walks. These are great ways to meet new people, get some exercise, have fun and generate funds for a variety of causes.
- These volunteer tour-leaders guide individuals and groups through museums, zoos and other attractions. Training is provided in most cases.
- Building and construction. You do not have to be an on-site construction worker to help build houses for the homeless, erect playgrounds for children in low-income neighborhoods or restore senior community centers.
So let’s make a plan to start volunteering today!