For some folks, making the step to volunteering can be difficult, even frightening. Perhaps they've had a bad experience. They may imagine volunteering as depressing (visiting hospital patients for example). Some may be afraid that volunteering will take too much time. Others simply don't know where to start.
Fear not. Volunteering runs an entire spectrum, and there's generally an opportunity for almost everyone. Put another way, there's a non profit version of just about every "real" job you can think of. Individual volunteers, at every level, are what make any non-profit keep functioning. Not sure where to volunteer? When in doubt, start with what you know or love. The odds are that whatever holds your interest will also need volunteers. Think outside the box. Love the theater? Most communities have local theater reliant on volunteers to do everything from paint sets to usher at the performance. Care about kids? Become a Casa volunteer that attends court sessions with a child. Volunteering runs the gamut. It's not all stuffing envelopes (although that has it's own rewards). Some more suggestions about volunteering:
- Follow whats in your heart. Do what makes you feel good, for an agency you care about.
- Recognize the need to say no. Volunteers are often in high demand, but you can only do so much. Choose one organization (or two) and just tell the other organisations that much as you'd like you simply don't have the time now.
- Know thyself. Every year my church has a two week mission to Honduras. Much as I would love to go, with my knee, its a no brainer. Not only would I be in pain, but I would be a hindrance to others. Instead I choose to connect with local organizations in a way I can help.
- Start really slowly. Commit to no more than a couple hours a week until you are sure that this is the place for you. Even then, make sure you are not overdoing it.
- Consider what kind of structure would make you feel the most comfortable some people prefer an organization such as Meals on Wheels. In my case, I prefer local based organizations. I get to interact at all levels more easily at say, my local food bank.
- Do your research. If you were donating financially, you would probably check the charity rating and the percentage of dollars forwarded. Do the same for an organization you may want to volunteer with. Most non profits have websites and paper literature that they are happy to share.
Giving back is, as they say, "good medicine" . Research shows that benefits from volunteering include increased happiness, self esteem, and increased social interaction. I encourage you to sept out of the box and pitch in. Reinvent yourself through volunteering, bit it in the arts, health, public policy, homelessness, criminal justice or any other area. You'll be glad you did.