Do Something: the How and Why of Volunteering

Why Volunteer?

The average person volunteers very little of their time to helping others. It’s incredibly easy to sit back and complain about things, maintain a cynical view on life, and focus only on the negative aspects of life and human suffering. While there are an insurmountable number of calamities in the world, sitting back and lamenting about them gets you nowhere.

No matter how insignificant you feel your contribution may be, even the smallest iota of positive influence and change you endeavor to send out into the world is worthy of your time and effort. No fight was ever won with a single battle. It’s a “death by a thousand cuts” situation. Every little bit helps.

People can have all kinds of reasons for wanting to volunteer. Most want to help others or feel like they’ve contributed some good in the world.

Despite your inner guilt, it’s also okay to want to glean some benefits for yourself from the act of service.

Volunteering is more of a loop than a straight line of giving. Although you may be the one selflessly providing for others today, you may require a helping hand from others in the future. It’s about paying it forward and being there for your fellow human.

Some possible motivations:

– Feeling needed
– Sharing something you’re good at with others
– Inspiring people
– Demonstrating commitment to a cause
– Feeding the hungry
– Teaching a life skill like reading or writing
– Challenging yourself
– Padding your resume
– A need for change
– Personal familiarity with the cause or tragedy
– Pride
– Meeting new people
– To escape

These are just a handful of justifications for your plunge into volunteerism, but there are countless more that I haven’t covered.

What personally motivates you? That’s the first consideration you should be making when determining how you’d like to give back.

Regardless of what inspires your decision to volunteer, you’re doing the right thing by exploring the options.

Where Do I Start?

Another facet of volunteering is deciding what conviction of yours is most important to you. What are the principles you’d like to uphold through your service?

If you’re compelled to increase local education, volunteer at your library or offer to help struggling students in elementary schools with their reading. Tutor someone in a subject you’re familiar with. If you’d like to lend advice to people, consider working as a life coach. Mentor folks in their career path, try to point others in the right direction.

There is an unlimited array of options for volunteer organizations, so the trick is to find work that you value. If you’re not into serving food or picking up litter, offer to help build homes or playgrounds or volunteer at a local hospital. The possibilities are endless, but the work will mean more if it’s for a cause that you wholeheartedly believe in.

Local vs. International

Do you want to help the community that you live in or would you rather travel abroad to struggling countries? While this seems fanciful or impossible, many organizations make it a reality for people to travel around the world to help others. Look into the Peace Corps or Greenpeace or, if you’re the religious type, consider becoming a missionary. Even Teach For America can send you to unexplored parts of your own country to lend extra help to needy school districts.

If this is your first foray into volunteering, though, I’d suggest that you start local. Begin on a smaller scale and look for local causes that interest you. Maybe there’s a book fair or carnival going on that you could lend your services to. There could be a local Boys and Girls Club that needs coaches or chaperones for their events and sports activities.

There’s always something to do.

Reach Out for More Information

Once you find a purpose that you’d like to explore, the next step is to gather as much information as you can.

Do a Google search and read the mission statement of the organization. Reach out on their contact page to one of the organizers and see if you can get some additional information, figure out times that they’re most busy, and acquire a list of activities that you could help with.

Get to know people in the organization and explain your background and preferences. What are you good at? What, specifically, can you contribute? Ask what their needs may be. Consider filling an immediate need and think about learning a new skill, even if its outside of your wheelhouse. This experience is about both helping others and, for yourself, growing internally and expanding your horizons.

It’s also important, if you’re employed, to ask your boss or human resources person to outline the do’s and don’ts of taking a volunteer day at your company. Most companies now give at least 1 paid day a year where you can volunteer for an event of your choosing. The only barriers may be coverage and the timing of the event. Make sure it’s not during a particularly busy quarter where your presence is indispensable. Sit down and discuss the possibilities with your employer and let them know that you’re flexible. With a little bit of balancing, I’m sure there’s opportunity to get something on the books for your volunteer work.

Get Training and Get Started

There may be some amount of training required before you start your activity. Make sure this is part of the information you request from the organizer. Perhaps there are certain protocols that must be followed in order to be considered for the opportunity.

If there is a formal orientation, make sure to be in attendance. If there’s nothing formal, then shadow an experienced volunteer. Ask lots of questions and learn as you go.

As long as you’re open-minded, can take direction, and you actually show up, you’re well on your way to being an asset.

Additional resources:

Teach For America
The Peace Corps
Boys and Girls Clubs of America
Coach Training Alliance
The Red Cross 
The Salvation Army
Habitat for Humanity