Volunteering to better our cities and communities is something that many Broke-Asses want to do. Not only do we have the time due to unemployment or having time during the day because we work a service job, but we understand the divide between the haves and the have-nots. When you decide you want to volunteer, it’s not quite as easy as walking into the nearest soup kitchen and picking up a ladle to start serving. It takes some thought and reflection on your part. I’ve been volunteering for many years and in many different causes, everything from an working at an animal shelter, tutoring inmates, and community needle exchanges. I’ve learned a lot about how to find and sustain a great volunteer gig.
1. Take the time to really think about why you want to volunteer. Of course, most people volunteer to help the less-fortunate, but some also do it to feel better about themselves. That’s not a bad thing, but feeling good about yourself should not be the main reason that you volunteer; it should be a postivie benefit ofof your volunteer efforts. If it’s more about making yourself feel superior or trying to prove something about yourself, maybe you should rethink it. There are other ways to make yourself feel superior not at the expense of those that need help.
2. Make sure you can really make the commitment. Many of the organizations, and the populations they serve, will be counting on you. In their lives, many have let them down and broken promises to them. Consistency is necessary. The organization also depends on you and shouldn’t be spending their time finding someone to cover for you. If you know that you are someone who often doesn’t keep appointments, look for opportunities that do not require a regular commitment, or one where you sign up for shifts as needed.
3. Be realistic about the populations you will serve. If you hate/are not good with children, don’t volunteer with children. If you are not good with senior citizens, don’t volunteer in a nursing home! In fact, if you hate people, then there are plenty of animal shelters that need assistance. This is the time to be honest with yourself- you won’t be helping anyone if you do not enjoy who you are working with.
Volunteering does not automatically mean working on the front lines and interacting with people in the community. Many non-profits, clinics, agencies need lots of help in areas of office work, website design, moving, event planning, public relations, and generally running the behind-the-scenes stuff. If you help them with this, you are still making a huge contribution to the cause, because it helps them serve who they are supposed to be serving. If you excel and enjoy these things, why not take the chance to do it more?
4. Accept the idea that you will not be able to change the world. The reality is that the volunteering you do won’t suddenly solve the problem. You likely won’t see any results or even “save” one person from their strife. It still doesn’t mean that you are making a difference, but you alone aren’t going to solve everything. Rest assured that it comes from a cumulative affect of all others helping. Mentoring an at-risk child will not guarantee that they will completely turn their life around, but you can be a source of support for them. Providing breakfast to the homeles population will not guarantee that they will secure a home and a job, but you can fill their basic needs for that morning. Make sure you have realistic expectations about what you are going to accomplish.
Ok, so you’ve self-reflected and know what you want. How do you find out what is out there?
- The internet, of course. Craigslist has a large posting of volunteer opportunities. You just need to pick through the weird, shady posts to find something. Look for posts from legitimate organiztions, and avoid the vague “I need someone to help me with home medical examinations” type of thing.
- Do some research on organizations and areas in your area, and check their websites or call them and ask about opportunities. Sometimes they accept volunteers only certain times of the year.
- Talk to people who volunteer and see how they like their volunteer experiences. If they enjoy it and it seems appealing to you, ask them how to get involved and they can give you the hookup.
- There are several organizations, usually regional, who are in the business of matching people with volunteer opportunities.
- If you are in college (or near a college) there is usually an office that lists several volunteer opportunities. If you are not in college, pose as a college student and ask to see their listings.
Photo credit: http://www.sarsonline.org