Volunteering is one of the greatest things you can do. Not only will you contribute to a meaningful cause and help an organization with some much needed love and attention, but you will also benefit on a personal level. Volunteering is the perfect way to build skills, meet new friends and mentors, find fulfillment and develop job leads. Plus, you’ll feel amazing helping a cause you believe in!
Finding that perfect volunteer experience is a different story. To get all these personal, professional and spiritual benefits, you may need to do a little upfront work to find the right opportunity for you. If you hate talking to people but get stuck manning every single outreach booth, you will find neither happiness or success. If you can’t leave the Humane Society without balling your eyes out for all the pups without a home, you’re not helping yourself or the Humane Society to say you’ll help walk the animals every week. Finding the right volunteer opportunity for your personality, your interests and your goals are key.
So how can you help an organization move forward in fulfilling its purpose, create connections within your community and enjoy your time while you’re at it? Here are the steps to lead you to your perfect volunteer opportunity.
- Self-reflect. Spend 20 minutes answering the following questions: What are 10 activities you enjoy doing? What are 10 causes you’re passionate about? What do you enjoy doing at work? What professional skills would you like to develop?
- Decide what you want out of volunteering. What do you want out of your volunteer experience? Do you want to give back in your neighborhood? Do you want to get more professional marketing experience? Do you want a chance to meet likeminded people? Do you want to learn more about a cause you believe in?
- Do some research and make a list of potential organizations. Find options in your area by searching based on your interests. If you love gardening and would like to meet people in your neighborhood, look into community gardens in your area. If you’re just out of college (or changing careers!) and want to improve your skills, look for small to mid-sized nonprofits in need of interns or regular volunteers. Google options, talk to friends and ask your network. Local niche stores and coffee shops often have ideas based on your interests. Example: if you love surfing, chances are your local surf shop can lead you to potential volunteer organizations and opportunities.
- Make contact. Start at the top of your list and figure out first steps. Some may require you to go to a volunteer orientation; some may let you start right away. If you aren’t familiar with the organization and have an option of attending an event, start with that to get a feel for the culture.
- Volunteer! Take as many opportunities as you can to volunteer for your new organization. Start small by doing a one-time volunteer shift to make sure it’s a good fit, and then go from there to see what you enjoy doing. It’s worth trying out different functions once you find a good organizational fit to see what you enjoy most.
- Get more involved. If you want super hands-on experience, be honest with the organization but be flexible too. Many established organizations have staff members entering membership numbers, scheduling outreach events and posting on social media, so you may have to pay your dues and slowly show your value to the organization before becoming that rockstar volunteer. If you want the higher level experience sooner rather than later, look for smaller organizations to volunteer. Oftentimes, small organizations are almost completely run by volunteers and in desperate need for exactly what you’re looking to do. If you volunteer in this type of role, be committed to follow through for at least six months. The last thing an organization needs is someone taking over a function to leave it hanging a month later.
Volunteering is so rewarding personally and professionally. Take time today to start figuring out your path to make a difference.