Reach out and make a real difference: Volunteer!

This year, National Volunteer Week in the U.S. is April 21-27; in Australia it is May 13-19.  Two dates, two countries, half a world away; each taking a week to celebrate the contributions, impact and power of volunteerism.   Yet how does one find a volunteer opportunity?  Surprisingly, through my research for this blog, I learned most of us will find out about a volunteer opportunity through someone else.  Forty percent of us become active because someone asked them and 25% through an event or family member being involved in an activity.  Less than 20% of us seek out a volunteer opportunity on our own!  Why?

I believe volunteering requires careful thinking in addition to generosity of spirit.  Volunteering needs to be something you do because you want to; not because you feel like you have to or think it will be “useful” in your career advancement. To make volunteering a part of your working life, you need to:

  • Find an activity that you care about and that makes good use of your talents.  You need to make it a labor of love.  When you feel strongly about something (music, arts, education, health care, children) you will enjoy the time and energy you give to it.
  • Know yourself:  do you like to work directly with people on the front lines? Or are you a behind-the-scenes person?  Are you a fundraiser?  What skills and experiences can you contribute?  What new skills will you learn?  Also it is important to be realistic about time commitments and start out slowly.
  • Look around your everyday life for volunteer opportunities: school, church, community.  Would you like to serve on a not-for-profit board? Be a mentor?  Become an active participant in associations you belong to. This will allow you to get involved in committees or on the board, and let people know they can depend on you.
  • Find a workplace that supports a culture of giving back. Working on a special company project or committee will expose you to diverse people from other parts of the organization.

Volunteering is hard work and you may wonder what’s in it for you?  Yes, you meet new people and make connections, gain skills and experience.  Volunteering also opens you up to seeing a bigger world; doing something for something you really care about while developing a spirit of generosity and stewardship. 

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