This column is part of an occasional series about how you, too, can make a difference. It is written by the head of our partner organization UniversalGiving, which is dedicated to helping people give and volunteer.
How do you pick the right volunteer experience for you? It’s important to be diligent in your choice of organizations when volunteering. Ask yourself the following questions to determine which experience best fits your goals.
1. What cause is important to you?
Identify your greatest passions. What is a problem you want to solve? Who are people you want to connect with? If you don’t have answers to those questions, don’t worry. Sometimes you know, and sometimes not! That’s where you just have to try, learn more about the cause, and see if it engages your mind and emotions.
This is why volunteering is so great. You can always try it, commit for a reasonable time, and then try something different. Start with an area about which you are curious, such as education, the environment, or health care. Interested in animal conservation? Volunteer with Pandas International to assist conservationists in caring for pandas. That raises another point: You can use volunteering to explore another part of the world. Working with Globe Aware in Peru, for example, will allow you to engage in a way much beyond that of a tourist.
2. What is the organization like?
The nonprofit sector continues to grow, with new organizations popping up daily. Understanding the organizational structure is critical to a positive volunteer experience. Would you like to work in a larger organization that might have more resources but is more rigid? Or a smaller, entrepreneurial organization that has less fiscal support but multiple opportunities to serve?
You also need to consider the leadership structure. Are they friendly, open, willing to give you opportunities? Do you see yourself enjoying your day working with them? If you answer yes, then most likely you will have a positive relationship. They will want to see you grow and develop, and you will want to help them. It’s a “win-win” for everyone. Try to meet with the leader or volunteer manager prior to starting to ensure it’s a good fit.
3. How much time can you dedicate?
Be realistic about the amount of time you can spend volunteering. Often, volunteers comment that they benefit from investing a lot of time becoming a part of the “nonprofit family.” You can learn the ins and outs of the organization and gain greater expertise.
However, you may have time only to help on weekends every now and then. That’s great, too. It’s just a different kind of experience. Volunteering one time to help a soup kitchen pack meals for families for the holidays is a good example. You’ve helped fill a need, and your heart is filled, too!
You’ve got a heart to give. Now, take the time to think about how you want to volunteer. By being thoughtful, you’ll use your time well and get the most out of your experience. (It also helps the nonprofit!) No matter what, you’ll be a better person. And the world will be better, too.
• Pamela Hawley is the founder and chief executive officer of UniversalGiving. She is a recipient of the Jefferson Award (the Nobel Prize of community service). She also writes the blog “Living and Giving.”