Ten Tips for a wise volunteering choice

1. Research the causes or issues important to you.

Look for a group that deals with issues about which you feel strongly. You might already be giving money to one of these organisations, and that might be a good place to begin your volunteer experience. If you can not find such an organisation, here is a challenging and intriguing thought: why not start one yourself? You can rally your neighbours to clean up that vacant lot on the corner, patrol the neighbourhood, paint an elderly neighbour's house, take turns keeping an eye on the ailing person down the street, or form a group to advocate for a remedy to that dangerous intersection in your neighbourhood. There is no end to the creative avenues for volunteering, just as there is no end to the need for volunteers.

2. Consider the skills you have to offer.

If you enjoy being outdoors, have a knack for teaching, or just enjoy interacting with people, you may want to look for volunteer opportunities which would incorporate these aspects of your personality. Many positions require a volunteer who has previous familiarity with certain equipment, such as computers, or who possesses certain skills, such as ability in athletics or communications. For one of these positions you might decide to do something comparable to what you do on the job during your workday, or something that you already enjoy as a hobby. This sort of position allows you to jump right into volunteering without having to take training to prepare for the assignment.

3. Consider volunteering as a family.

Think about looking for a volunteer opportunity, which would be suitable for parents and children to do together, or, for husband and wife to take on as a team. When a family volunteers together at a non-profit organisation the experience can bring them closer together, teach young children the value of giving their time and effort, introduce everyone in the family to skills and experiences never before encountered, and give the entire family a shared experience as a wonderful family memory.

4. Would you like to learn something new?

Perhaps you would like to move into areas that will provide you with novelty or change. Then seek a volunteer opportunity involving training in an unfamiliar skill. Many nonprofits seek out people who are willing to learn, especially if the needs they serve are specialised or unique. Many nonprofits have a demonstrated need, but few volunteers skilled in what it takes to fill that need. Realise beforehand, however, that such volunteering might require much more of an effort or a time commitment for training before the actual volunteer assignment begins. Make sure you are willing to commit to the necessary responsibilities.

5. Do not over-commit your schedule

Make sure the volunteer hours you want to give fit into your life, so that you do not frustrate your family, exhaust yourself, short-change the organisation you are trying to help or neglect your day job. Do you want a long-term assignment or something temporary? If you are unsure about your availability, or want to see how the work suits you before making an extensive commitment, see if the organisation will start you out on a limited number of hours until you get the feel of things. Better to start out slowly than to commit yourself to a schedule you can not or do not want to fulfill.

6. Nonprofits may have questions, too.

While most nonprofits are eager to find volunteer help, they have to be careful when accepting the services you offer. If you contact an organisation with an offer to donate your time, you may be asked to come in for an interview, fill out a volunteer application, describe your qualifications and your background just as you would at an interview for a paying job. It is in the organisation's interest to make certain you have the skills they need, that you are truly committed to doing the work, and that your interests match those of the non-profit. Furthermore, in volunteer work involving children or other at-risk populations, there are legal ramifications for the organisation to consider.

7. I never thought of that!

Many community groups which are looking for volunteers may not have occurred to you. Most of us know that hospitals, libraries, and churches involve volunteers for a great deal of their work, but here are some volunteer opportunities which may not have crossed your mind:

  • Day care centres
  • Neighbourhood Watch
  • Public schools and colleges
  • Retirement centres and homes for the elderly
  • Meals on Wheels
  • Church or community-sponsored services
  • Museums
  • Community choirs, bands and orchestras
  • Public parks
  • Youth organisations, sports teams, and after school programs

8. Give voice to your heart through your giving and volunteering!

Bring your heart and your sense of humour to your volunteer service, along with the enthusiastic spirit that is, in itself, a priceless gift. What you will get back will be immeasurable!

9. Virtual volunteering?

Yes, there is such a thing! If you have computer access and the necessary skills, some organisations now offer the opportunity to do volunteering over the computer. This might take the form of giving free legal advice, proof reading a college paper for a person with a disability, or designing a website for a group. This sort of volunteering might be well-suited to you if you have limited time, no transportation, or a physical disability which precludes you from getting about freely. Virtual volunteering can also be a way for you to give time if you simply enjoy computers and want to employ your computer skills in your volunteer work.

10. Be a year-round volunteer!

We all tend to think more of those in need during the holidays; but volunteering is welcome and necessary all year. The need for compassion does not stop with the New Year, and warm spring weather does not fill empty stomachs or decrease the litter in the public parks. We all need to be aware that making our communities, our nation and our world better is a 365-day-a-year responsibility and there is always something we could be doing to help!