Volunteering is a great way to further a cause, support an organization, and make a difference in your community. It can also be an opportunity to meet new people and learn new skills. If you'd like to give something besides money, consider lending your time and talents to organizations that are important to you.
1. Consider why you want to volunteer. Do you want to help the world or your community? Do you want to build your own skills, make new friends, and learn? Do you love what you do? Do you want to share your gifts with others or give something back? Examining these sorts of questions can help you to choose the right direction for your volunteer work.
2. Choose an organization that is meaningful to you. If you feel strongly about literacy, for instance, volunteer at your local library or find out if there is an organization of volunteer tutors in your area. There are organizations doing all sorts of work, and it is especially important with volunteer work that you choose something that you value. Organizations exist for all sorts of purposes, so if dishing up food at a soup kitchen doesn't sound like your cup of tea, consider ushering at your local theater, building homes, or volunteering at a hospital or animal shelter.
3. Look for an organization or activity in your area or community. While some volunteers do sign up for the Peace Corps or other worldwide organizations and travel to remote parts of the world, you should probably start on a smaller scale than that, especially if you already have commitments at home. If you do plan on venturing abroad in your volunteer work, get lots of information about what to expect there and ask your doctor about getting immunizations appropriate to your destination. Talk to others who have traveled with your intended organization and ask them to share their experiences, too.
4. Seek out an organization and tasks within it that suit your skills and interests. Of course, you can develop new skills and learn many things by volunteering, but your volunteer work can still be compatible with your interests. If you're an outgoing "people person", you might not have much fun in the back office stuffing envelopes or filing papers. Others, by contrast, might find it uncomfortable to solicit funds door-to-door. Do you love to work with people? With animals? With children? With numbers? Are you handy? Do you love to speak or to write? Organizations need all sorts of skills. If you're not sure what sort of work you like or dislike, a volunteer organization may be a great opportunity to dabble a bit and try different things.
5. Start small. If you already have a busy schedule, volunteer your time for an hour or two per week or perhaps one day per month. (Just about anybody can free up that much time easily. Try turning off the TV!) You might be surprised how much you can accomplish in even a little bit of time. Then, if you find you enjoy the work and have more time to pursue it, gradually take on more.
6. Get to know others in the organization and how the group supports volunteers. Attend a training or orientation session, if one is available; if not, talk to local group leaders and other volunteers in the community about their experiences. You'll learn what to expect of an organization and your work with it, and you'll pick up some good tips to make your work there more productive and more meaningful.
7. Explain your own background and preferences to those in charge. They can help to match you with meaningful, suitable tasks, but only if they know a bit about who you are.
• Ask, don't demand. The people in charge of organizing, whether or not they are also volunteers, have certain needs to meet and may be quite busy.
• Especially if you're just starting out, consider helping with an immediate need even if it is not the ideal match for your abilities. Work doesn't always neatly match the people available to do it. You will still be helping the organization and you might learn a new skill or discover something about yourself. The favor you earn may also help you into a more suitable or desirable task next time.
8. Get started. Ask plenty of questions and do your research, but until you sign up and get your feet wet, you won't know if volunteering for a particular organization is really right for you.
9. Get training. If your organization has a formal orientation or training, attend it. If not, or if you still don't know where to begin, ask to work with an experienced volunteer or group. Then, ask lots of questions and give it a shot.
10. Try not to give up. Volunteer organizations, too, sometimes have less-pleasant tasks, difficult fellow workers, busy times, slow times, or bad management. If you find your work unpleasant, you have choices:
• Work through it, anyway. If you feel it needs doing, but it's dull or heavy work, put the music on, divide it into manageable pieces, take breaks when you need them, and get the job done. Don't forget to look for ways to ease the task or prepare better next time.
• Get help. If you're overwhelmed, confused, or stuck, ask if there is anyone else that could step up and give you a hand, even temporarily to get through some backlog or difficulty. Organizations may also have other resources to draw on, from contacts to sister organizations to libraries and municipalities.
• Fix the problem. If there's something in your way, it's probably in everybody else's way, too. Lead the charge to get more volunteers, more money, better equipment, or skilled help. Clean up messes when you see them. Suggest (gently, please!) how matters could be better handled or organized. Or, simply bring the problem to the attention of the organization or its leaders and ask what can be done.
• Take a break or back off. If you're exhausted, you may not be doing yourself or anyone else any good. Would everybody be better off if you came back with fresh energy later?
• Ask to do something else. If you feel you can better serve the organization by doing something more in line with your talents or skills, say so, and let organization leaders know what sorts of tasks or talents you would rather contribute.
• Look to another organization or branch. If you have tried all your best diplomatic skills and still have difficulty with the tasks or people you encounter, leave graciously and look elsewhere. Mismatches and mismanagement can happen in volunteer organizations, too.
• Start your own organization or volunteer freelance. Remember, though, that you may be on your own to provide the money and talent that an established volunteer organization may already have secured.
11. Have fun! You will accomplish more if you love what you do, and chances are good that your enthusiasm will infect others.
• Volunteer organizations, too, often have hierarchies within them, up through which volunteers must make their way. If you think you would like to volunteer during your retirement, for instance, consider starting on a small scale now to build your track record and contacts within that organization.
• If you are offered a leadership position or nominated as an officer, consider carefully whether that is what you want. If what you love is the in-the-trenches work for an organization, its board meetings and budgets may only prove to be a burden and an extra commitment of time. On the other hand, if you feel you can best contribute by helping an organization to run smoothly, give it a try.
• If you are asked to lead other volunteers, remember that they are volunteers and that their only compensation for their time is the enjoyment they get out of helping. Lead by example. Suggest, guide, advise, and organize. Rather than dictating or demanding, aim to serve your team by clearing their path of obstacles.
• Don't forget that wikiHow needs volunteers, too! Share your knowledge by writing or improving an article, or simply fix an error. You can begin here.
• Try not to get pressured into volunteering, or taking on too much. If it stops being rewarding and starts being a chore, back off or take a break.
• Don't be a zealot. Enthusiasm for your chosen organization or cause is great, but balance and moderate it so that you don't burn out. Remember, too, that others may not feel as strongly about your cause as you do.
• Pay attention to safety and don't be bashful about asking for training.
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