By Mary Vlahos
Volunteering can be a confusing prospect and it’s important to find the volunteer position and organization that is right for you. What volunteer opportunities are out there, and how do you find them? How do you know which opportunity is right for you? What benefits can you get out of volunteering? These are all important questions that you need to answer to make volunteering a truly rewarding experience.
Sometimes finding a volunteer opportunity is easy. There is a friend or family member that’s involved and reels you in, or it’s for a cause close to your heart. My bother has two daughters that were born premature and that lead me to volunteer for the March of Dimes. Other times it’s not that easy. One website that will help match you up to the right volunteer opportunity is www.volunteermatch.org . You can browse general categories like children and youth, technology, community, crisis support, the list goes on. There is also a calendar of events you can browse through if you are looking to volunteer at a specific time of year.
If you’re very community oriented, your local county convention and visitor’s bureau often has volunteer opportunities for you. Visit Canton, in Stark County, has many volunteer opportunities at www.VisitCanton.com/partners/volunteers. There you will see a list of events and descriptions of job duties. You can also sign up for your specific interests and be notified when new events or opportunities arise. You can volunteer to help with events such as a community festival, a youth sporting event, or even a marathon. There are also industry associations that are always looking for event volunteers. There are state associations and organizations tied to every profession. If you’re looking for something that is career oriented, that’s a great place to start.
Finding the right opportunity for you can be a challenge. Make a list of skills you have that an organization could use. Maybe you’ve helped out on a silent auction, or you’re great at accounting, or skilled at writing. See how those skills match up to what organizations need. Next, think about what you want to commit timewise and when. If you’re super busy at work during the summer, a summer festival is probably not for you. How much time can you spend per week? Ask that question before you commit to volunteering. Pulling out of a volunteer commitment, because you’ve realized half way through that it requires too much time, can really hurt an organization that is depending on you. Does the volunteer position require something, like heavy lifting, that you’re not capable of doing? Determine exactly what’s involved with regards to time and duties, and you and the organization will benefit greatly. Finding something you have a link to, or a passion for, will make the experience that much more enjoyable. Knowing you helped a cause that is near and dear to your heart can make volunteering rewarding and even fun!
We all volunteer for altruistic reasons, but it doesn’t hurt to also get something out of it. If you are volunteering for an industry organization, the benefit is obvious — networking and advancing your career. Another way to advance your career is to find a volunteer position that will provide you with experience or a skillset that you don’t already have. For example, if you want experience in sales, find an opportunity that will allow you to solicit donations. That’s an amazing resume builder. If you want experience in management, offer to manage a subgroup of volunteers or be a committee chair. You can work your way up to event chair and manage the entire event! A LinkedIn study showed that over 41% of employers valued volunteer experience as much as paid work experience. There is also a website that can assist you in finding a job in the non-profit world, www.idealistcareers.org. Your calling may actually be to work for the non-profit you volunteer for.
The utmost benefit, of course, is in knowing your donation of time has helped an organization make a difference. Charity begins at home. Go out in your community and volunteer! It’s not someone else’s duty, it’s yours.
How do I Volunteer