Volunteering is not just for high school students who need to write something to boost their college resume. People of all ages can benefit from volunteering, and organizations need volunteers of all ages, with different skills and experiences.
But where do I start? After all, there are countless opportunities for volunteers.
The best volunteer services are the ones that come from within you. They will use your existing skills or teach you new ones that you want to learn. They will answer the questions that are close to your heart and introduce you to new and amazing people.
When you are ready to start volunteering, it will be time to find the right opportunity for you. Here are some tips to help you find a volunteer opportunity that will have a positive impact not only on the world, but also on your life.
Think about your skills and interests
The best opportunities for volunteers will interest and inspire you. If applying for a job seems boring, you probably won’t stay long. So, look for opportunities that are already of interest to you.
It is also important to find opportunities to use existing skills. If you don’t have the skills you need, volunteering can seem too intimidating.
For example, if you like pets, you might be able to offer dogs a walk at your local shelter. Or, if you have experience teaching, you could volunteer and teach adult literacy courses. However, if you don’t like pets or don’t feel comfortable before classes and teaching, these options are not ideal.
Boost your resume
Did you know that you can use volunteering for your future career?
Volunteering experience is like a good resume hook (yes, even for adults). It’s even better when it deals with skills within your career industry.
Think about volunteering in your field. If, for example, you want to become a lawyer one day, you can volunteer with ACLU. If you want to do marketing one day, you may find a non-profit organization that needs marketing support.
You can also look for volunteer opportunities in different fields that will give you other valuable skills. For example, volunteering can provide you with customer service, communication, and many other skills that you can include on your resume.
Do extensive research
There are many organizations that seem to be beneficial but are not. At CreativeVolunteer, we have an entire vetting process to select organizations we work with (in order to ensure trustworthy organizations). Before you start volunteering, you should do some research on the organization to find out if it is trustworthy as it claims to be.
Online research is a good place to start. For example, you might end up finding an article on the Internet about the wrongdoing of its leaders. Your research will help you not to associate yourself with a questionable organization.
You can also talk to past volunteers and employees about their experiences. For example, if you want to volunteer to teach English as a second language, talk to former students in the program to find out what they think about teaching within the organization. If they have structural or management problems, they may not want to volunteer. But if they have a lot of experience, it is a sign that they have found a good place to volunteer.
Ask yourself the right questions
Think first of all about the logistics of your life. Over the past decade, a movement known as effective altruism has developed – EA, in short, is an attempt to define the greatest good that you can do. EA advocates that people refrain from actions they find useful and comforting and replace the short-term help for long-term help that has measurable, sustainable impacts. They are also often (but not always) suspected of volunteering in general: the organization is not free to accept volunteers, and in any case, what is a soup hour if your time costs 60 dollars per hour, which can then be donated to an effective charity?
Here are some questions that you should ask yourself:
- Am I doing this because it’s a fun and great way to meet people, or because I think I can make a difference?
- Why do I want to volunteer?
- Is the mission of the organization consistent with my values?
- Is this an opportunity to make the most of my potential?
- Does my work bring any long-term benefits?
Be realistic in your program
If volunteering lasts ten hours a week, ask yourself; can you offer that much time without burning yourself thin? Before you start offering your time, check your schedule carefully and decide how many hours per week or month you can spend.
Often it is best to start with fewer hours and work from there. If you are going to volunteer, you need to invest time and energy in learning how to work. Once you get used to it, it is easier to increase the number of hours.
Avoid long commutes
A volunteer program that sounds good, with a long journey, can also be less good. When calculating working hours, travel time must be taken into account. If you decide to volunteer at a low threshold, you will have fewer chances to exhale and give up.
Get ready emotionally
Some voluntary activities are more emotionally complex than others. Before you decide to volunteer, you must prepare yourself for the emotional stress that may arise.
Working with disadvantaged people, such as victims of violence or homeless people, will be as emotionally difficult as regular work. Working with shelters, environmental organizations, and other forms of volunteerism can have the same effect.
It is important to know how to set limits and take care of yourself in order to fulfill your responsibilities. Many organizations have resources that can help you in these areas, so feel free to ask.
Think about online and in-person opportunities
When you think about volunteering, you probably think about what you can do physically. However, the number of volunteers working online is also growing.
For example, you can volunteer in social media marketing for non-profit organizations all the way from home. This type of voluntary work is a great way to get new skills that can help you in your career. They are ideal if you are not living close to many physical opportunities or if other factors, such as fear, prevent you from volunteering on a personal level.
Visit the organizations before you start
If you go the normal route, you can make sure it suits you by visiting the physical organization before signing-on.
On some opportunities, you will be required to interview in-person, anyway. But even if not, ask if you can visit the location or even accompany someone who does the work you would do. Make sure that you enjoy not only your work, but also the environment and the people you will work with.
Look around for Volunteer Opportunities
So, the homeless shelter in your area told you that they really need someone to serve lunch every Tuesday at 11am, and that’s not good for you. Instead of getting your hopes down, keep looking! Looking for volunteer opportunities is like finding a partner, and you may be disappointed a few times before you find a good one.
To take the metaphor one step further, you can also use ‘online dating’ to help you with your search. On CreativeVolunteer, we help you find organizations that need specific skills and filter out opportunities that are not right for you.
Think of it as a job
Often effective altruists consider more valuable “highly qualified” opportunities, i.e. those that only a small number of people can do well. “The worst voluntary activity is one that can be easily replaced.” For example, if you plan to go to another country to build houses, you should think twice: you probably take someone else’s job and do it wrong.
The image of a volunteer is often an image of soup and alms, but the need for skills – accounting, writing, videography, and fundraising – is often more pressing for many charities. When we publish an opportunity on the CreativeVolunteer portal, we ensure the opportunity is a worthwhile and career-boosting experience to engage potential volunteers in using their expertise.
Be prepared to get involved as soon as possible
Thing about needs of organizations in the present, as this is the best way to significantly help the cause. It may be that an NGO has made a mistake on its website and cannot afford in-house specialists, or that a social worker needs legal advice for a client in an emergency – helping to solve these problems may be a more valuable use of your work than constantly offering general help.
Think about what’s going on in your community and the news. If you live in an area that is still struggling to recover from a natural disaster, or if a disproportionate number of people are dealing with unsafe jobs, a lack of food, and no shelter, local groups are often very open and tell volunteers what they really need. In Washington, D.C., for example, where demand for food exploded during government closures, food bank websites have information on the most useful form of assistance: a digital food campaign and a cash donation instead of bringing soup cans.
Be consistent in your help
Once you find the right volunteer opportunity, this is one of the best ways to make your work count. The best volunteer experience is continuous, not periodic. If you can come and help once, it’s good, but most of the time, consistent dedication is better. Consistency is the key.
Start with a short-term project
Many organizations need volunteers to perform short-term tasks. This is a good way to find out if an organization or sector is right for you. If you want, you can look at long-term opportunities at the end of your short-term job. But if this doesn’t work, you can leave without wasting too much time.
Find the Right Volunteer Opportunities for You
If you have free time, volunteering is a great way to help yourself and others. It can give you a sense of satisfaction that goes beyond what you have at your regular job. It can also open the door to the future, allowing you to add an interesting and valuable experience to your resume.
Take the time to research and use these tips to find the ideal opportunity – and then be prepared to take advantage of all the benefits that volunteering can offer!