Getting Started Volunteering. Now.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t just build your woodpile. You’ve gotta burn some of it along the way – getting involved in your community is how you figure out the impact YOU can make. It’s time to step outside your comfort zone and do something different!
Some of you reading this post know exactly what you need to be doing to grow your woodpile/improve your community. It’s a pretty personal thing; after all, it is YOUR woodpile. You’ve maybe made a regular volunteer commitment, or are making a difference at your job, or are doing an above and beyond role with your family. Perfect.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
Others of you may have had the thought something is missing in your life. You go to work in a job you’d rather forget, come home, make dinner for the family, maybe take a vacation now and then. Or perhaps you’re at or near the retirement stage of life, trying to figure out what’s next but are a little scared by the thought of not having your lifelong “work” routine when you wake up.
Many people find that the little hole in their life can be filled by being more involved in the community. I’m not sure hole is even the right word. Maybe it’s more of a sense that there’s an opportunity not being taken advantage of, or a need to connect with others in a different way. In any case, whatever the cause, volunteering can fit the bill!
My personal approach is to find volunteer opportunities that are going to help make my community a place I want to live. Other folks give back out of appreciation for some benefit or help they’ve received somewhere along the way. Plenty of people use volunteering as a way to spend time with their family and friends. Any reason you have to get involved is good enough to me!
So you’ve decided to take action. Now comes the next step – taking the leap into making a difference. Figuring out how to start building your community woodpile can be a challenge. What to do? How do I do it? Will it make a difference? Will the organization or group I want to help be able to use me?
IT DOESN’T MATTER
If you’ve done little to no volunteer work before, I’m here to tell you, those questions aren’t going to matter a year from now. Once you take the first step into community impact, you’re going to get drawn in, you’re going to find (eventually) a place or group where you like the difference you’re making, and you’ll be on your way. It’s kind of infectious, but in a good way. Instead of the aching sinuses and fever of a cold, you get energized, rewarded, and happy.
And if a particular activity doesn’t get you there, so what? Move on to the next thing. There’s always more that needs to be done, somewhere. That activity you weren’t liking so much? If it really needs to be done, someone will come along who likes doing that job. We’re all different; you’ll enjoy volunteering more and the impact will be greater if you’re doing something that fits your unique personality, skills and motivations.
TIME TO GO!
So, here’s a simple process for finding that first, or next, volunteer activity. It’s not the only way, but it can help you get going:
1. Find Your Deal
If this is your first volunteer search in a while, don’t worry about finding your “passion,” as some people advocate. You’re just looking for a “fit”. Keep it simple by asking, “What looks interesting?” Read the paper, browse your community’s social media pages, talk to friends, figure out what’s going on that you think is pretty cool. You don’t need to get too specific here. Broad categories, such as working with animals or feeding the homeless, can be enough to set you on an exciting new direction!
For a first time volunteer, you want to find an activity or organization in your chosen category that makes it easy to get involved. Quite often, that means that they are high profile and need a lot of volunteers.
Volunteering for an event can be a great way to test the waters on the short or medium term. Or maybe you only want to commit enough time for now to observe or do a simple task for one day at an organization that has regular activities. As a beginner, don’t feel you have to sign your life away. Just make a commitment to a first step that’s easy for you!
One of my favorite ways to find new volunteer opportunities is through friends and family. After all, who better to recommend an opportunity that is a fit for you than someone who knows you really well? It is also surprising how often friends may be looking for someone just like you to help – they just might not have thought of you because you didn’t ask. Or maybe your friend has wanted to do something, but didn’t want to do it alone. It can be a lot of fun to volunteer with people close to you, so get involved together!
3. Make a Match
Now that you’ve figured out what you want to do, and with what organization or group, it’s time to get involved. Thankfully, it’s a lot easier these days than it used to be. Contact information is usually readily available on the group’s website or social media, or maybe you have a friend that can introduce you.
In many towns like mine, there may even be centralized places to find volunteer opportunities. For instance, the United Way typically has a pretty good handle on which agencies use volunteers the best. Ours even has a website specifically for the task – VolunteerBemidji.org! Churches and other groups that encourage community involvement may also have listings in their bulletin or website.
Time to jump in and reach out! And if you don’t get an immediate response, try again, please! Sometimes, especially as it gets closer to an event or activity, organizers may miss an email or phone call. That’s all right. We’re all here to support each other, don’t let them let you slip away!
That’s it, at least for now. We’ll talk about what to expect out of that first volunteer gig later. As you gain experience, you’ll undoubtedly create a system for finding new volunteer opportunities that is uniquely yours, consciously or unconsciously. You’ll also develop a keener (is that still a word?) sense of your passions and how to put them to use.
What’s your best new volunteer story? Tell us in the comments below!