From February through May, I went on a search to become a volunteer. I wanted to give my time to something important, and more than just an hour or two here and there. No, I was willing to be more than a volunteer. I was offering free work, flexible hours and plenty of professional experience behind me (in addition to my effervescent and spunky personality).
The Corporation for National and Community Service reported that in year of 2011, 64.5 million Americans had served as volunteers. That equated to around 8 billion hours, at a total value of $171 billion. Pretty generous America, nice work! I will be honest, in 2011 I probably gave only twenty of those 8 billion hours.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks this down further for the year of 2012. The summary is that people volunteering went up to 65.5 Million, women volunteered at higher rates than men and those 35-44 were most likely to volunteer. Based upon these statistics, no wonder I was ready and willing to volunteer.
So why is volunteering important? A resource for nonprofits, helpguide.org listed four major benefits of volunteering.
- #1 Connection to others. This means making new friends and professional contacts. Social skill development will be at work. You should also consider volunteering as a family or a group of friends to strengthen existing relationships.
- #2 Mind & Body Benefits. Increases in self-confidence, self-esteem and overall quality of life have been found. In this way, volunteering can combat depression by decreasing social isolation and potential building of a support system. Your physical health also can have gains, at any age. “Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not. Volunteering has also been shown to lessen symptoms of chronic pain or heart disease” That’s right, it’s good for your heart!
- #3 Career Advancement. Practicing skills such as teamwork, communication, problems solving, organization, etc will strengthen your resume. In addition, you can explore new careers, fields and skills. Also, don’t be surprised who you meet that may just lead you to your next job. Finally, many volunteer positions offer training. This is all considered professional development that can make you stand out against the rest of the job market.
- #4 Fun & Fulfillment! Pretty simple and straight forward, if you find an organization that lines up with your passions you will enjoy the time you give and leave feeling energized. In this way, being a volunteer can renew other areas of your life.
Still not convinced? Here are a few more reasons: http://www.idealist.org/info/Volunteer/Why
Already being aware of all of these amazing benefits, I needed no convincing to become a volunteer. My search almost felt like job searching, exploring sites, contacts and updating my resume. I figured the process would be fairly easy and I would be volunteering in a week or two. However, I was surprised how hard it was to search, hear back from, and move forward with organizations.
I will admit, patience isn’t one of my top strengths. It was simple to me: I’m ready and available to help, you need help, so let’s help each other! I am not wrapping all nonprofits in the umbrella of black hole communication, but there are still very well-known organizations that I have still not heard back from. I wonder if that alone is the reason why even small to large organizations need volunteers so badly.
This post will be a resource. Through my hunt, I found a number of organizations and search websites that may come in handy if you too are interested in volunteering.
Let’s first start by asking yourself a few questions. Even if you don’t have a particular organization or cause you are interested in, you should have an idea of what you are looking for out of the volunteer experience.
World Volunteer Web provided tips for getting starting:
First, ask yourself if there is something specific you want to do.
For example, do I want…
…to make it better around where I live
…to meet people who are different from me
…to try something new
…to do something with my spare time
…to see a different way of life and new places
…to have a go at the type of work I might want to do as a full-time job
…to do more with my interests and hobbies
…to do something I’m good at
The best way to volunteer is to match your personality and interests. Having answers to these questions will help you narrow down your search.
It is also important that a match is found between your time commitments and the organization’s needs. Helpguide.org suggested you ask yourself:
- Would you like to work with people or would you rather work in solitude?
- Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team?
- Are you better behind the scenes or do you prefer to take a more visible role?
- How much time are you willing to commit?
- how much responsibility are you ready to take on?
- What skills can you bring a volunteer job?
- What causes are important to you?
Ready to start searching? How exciting! Here are a number of sites to start with. These will allow you to look for a variety of interests and time commitments. (Idealist.org is my favorite)
The one drawback to open searches is that it can be overwhelming. If you’d like some suggestions on solid national organizations here would be a few to start with:
So drumroll please….after my four-month pursuit in becoming a volunteer, I have committed to three organizations. Each very unique in time commitment, population served and mission.
This organization combines physical activity with lessons that enhance holistic development for girls in 3rd– 8th grades. The mission of Girls on the Run is personal. In addition to being a runner, I am an educator. I will be working on a variety of projects for GOTR, including creation of college campus relations.
This organization launched the global fight against on breast cancer. Throughout the globe there are affiliates, such as Los Angeles, Orange County, etc that target those communities. As a volunteer I will be serving on the inaugural Los Angeles Young Professionals Leadership Council. My event and marketing experience will come into play, as we create events every other month that will be both networking and development focused for the foundation. I am very excited to be working with other young professions on furthering funding for breast cancer research and awareness education.
This was an example where geography and interest meets the perfect opportunity. The Animal Wellness Center is the physical location for the foundation, which is actually a vet and adoption center. Because the location was so close to my house and I love animals, it was a great match. They need volunteers at least once, sometimes up to three times a week at adoption events around Los Angeles. My only rule I gave the organization was: I would be more than willing to volunteer, but they couldn’t let me take home (at least the same day on impulse and cute factor) any of the adorable little ones.
In reality I still have a lot more to learn and give to each of these organizations. I am learning that as a volunteer I most likely will always need to take the initiative in reaching out to my contacts at each organization. Volunteering does not end just with the commitment, especially if you are hoping to volunteer more than the one day in and out experience.
In closing my message about pursuing volunteering is this.
- Do aggressively pursue volunteering.
- Don’t give up if one organization doesn’t get back, as there are hundreds more.
- Do stay true to the organization you commit to, follow through what you commit to do.
- Don’t stop following up with the organization, they need you even if you don’t hear from them.