As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I wanted to talk a little bit about volunteering. It is no secret that volunteering makes you a better person. While you’re helping other people, you’re also helping yourself. When I googled “positive effects of volunteering” there were law studies, health studies, journal articles, and even a website for depression treatments that suggests volunteering can be a possible aid in treating depression. But what makes a volunteer experience even better and feels better is finding an experience that you want to stand behind, not just when you’re there but when you’re with your friends and family and out in the community. It’s not easy narrowing it down to one thing that you want to volunteer for or advocate, nor do you have to. But find something that you can really stand behind and you can make a difference for other people and for yourself.
1. What are you really interested in? To be passionate about a cause, you need to have an interest in it and you really don’t have to look farther than your facebook profile. Don’t discount those interests that might not seem “cause-worthy.” Love to cook? Share Our Strength is an amazing organization devoted to making sure no child in America goes hungry. Some of their volunteer opportunities include working with children to develop good nutrition. Love music? Advocate for schools to keep music as part of their school curriculum. Being interested in your cause seems like a no-brainer but sometimes it seems easier to go along with a more popular cause. You and I both know that you’re going to stick with something longer and be more passionate if it captures your interest. Brainstorm and come up with what really gets you going and start searching for an organization that shares your ideas.
2. What are your talents? I have many talents but working with animals is not one of them. I love my dog and I love animals but when I went to volunteer at the local animal shelter, I realized that no matter what love I have for them, working with them is just not my thing. This whole process took ten painful hours working with cats to discover that I would have been much better off helping them organize their next big fundraiser. If you are the next dog whisperer, please check out your local shelter immediately and give them some lovin’. If you’re a people person, find a volunteer commitment working hands-on with kids, seniors, or a disadvantaged population that could use your time and attention. If you’re a whiz at numbers, many non-profits need help with accounting or fundraising. It doesn’t matter what your talents are, they are going to be of some use to some organization and you’ll find them.
3. What kind of commitment can you make? While you may have an interest and a talent that can benefit a new organization, you need to be realistic about how much you can commit to an organization. Understand how much time you can really allot for volunteering. If you’re already overloaded with classes or work more than 40 hours a week (or it just feels like it), then don’t overextend yourself to squeeze in some time for your cause. As someone who works with volunteers, it is much better for you to know that you can only give ten hours for the semester or make it to one event a month than to think that you can come every week and end up dropping out after only two or three weeks. It is much easier for the organization to schedule you when they know your schedule and your agenda so be clear with them and yourself.
4. Don’t hesitate to try it out. It is natural to find out that organization is one way but when you actually go and work with them, it’s totally different. Don’t waste their time or your time by sticking with a commitment that you can’t get behind. It would have been really hard for me to fundraise for Memory Walk had I not have a vested interest in improving the lives of individuals with Alzheimer’s. So if you’re uncomfortable or realize your talents don’t really match what the organization needs, express that to the volunteer coordinator. Maybe they have another area that would be better for you or you might just have to search out a new organization or cause. Just don’t go from organization to organization; be confident that you are going to enjoy volunteering somewhere before you go.
5. It doesn’t have to be overnight. It took me a long time to realize what I wanted my passionate cause to be. Not rushing in to anything makes it easier to commit and easier to love it. You need to really evaluate your interests, talent, and time before making something your cause. One person who is extremely passionate and committed is better than ten people who show up intermittently.