By Mandie Sweetnam
I have a soft spot for those who volunteer their time, especially with animal shelters. This is probably due to the fact that I have worked in an animal shelter and fully understand the necessity for capable and willing individuals to donate said time. Without volunteers, many non-profits would cease to operate or exist for that matter. Even when someone can volunteer only a few hours at a time, it makes a huge difference. In these tough economic times, some can’t afford to make monetary donations like they once had.
It is so important for those people who want to give to their favorite charity, but aren't able to make monetary contributions, to remember that you can give back with your time or with in-kind donations, or donations given in the forms of goods or services instead of money. As I mentioned, I was once on the inside of a non-profit organization as a Volunteer Manager, so I fully appreciate the great spectrum of talented individuals who offer up their time. When someone comes to volunteer who has specific skills and experience, especially with something the organization doesn’t normally have access to on a daily basis, it really makes a difference.
Skills such as photography, graphic design or web design are always helpful. Anywhere you go, your Volunteer Manager will find a way to put your skills to good use. It might not happen immediately, but over time, you’ll get to show off your talents in some way. Having volunteers with a specific skill set is wonderful, but sometimes it’s also great to have someone come in and say “Where do you need the most help?” Even if it’s filing, laundry or (in the case of an animal shelter) cleaning cages, it’s great to have a volunteer who is up for anything.
Chopping wood to deliver to families to keep warm in the winter.
Volunteering can also be a great way to learn new skills that will help you stand out in the job market. While your goal for volunteering is and should be to help the organization, there’s nothing wrong with gaining experience while you help! Being open to learn new things is a great way to make this happen.
Also, by being reliable and building the trust of the other volunteers and staff, you’ll start to have more opportunities to do different kinds of work. In a non-profit, being reliable means always coming to your shift on time, and if not, call first. This also means putting in your best efforts.
Everyone can tell if you’re not giving it your best, and honestly, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be giving it 100%. Lastly, this means being willing to put in the time. Don’t expect to walk in and get the volunteer job of your dreams in the first week. Give it some time so you can get to know your new surroundings, and your new “co-workers” can get to know you.
"How lovely to think that no one need to wait a moment: we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make a contribution toward introducing justice straight away." Anne Frank
If you’re interested in volunteering, here are some things to consider:
Ask a friend to volunteer with you. By using the buddy system, you can hold each other accountable for getting your volunteer time in. And it’s always more fun to bring a friend!
Find a cause that you really believe in. It’s easier to get motivated to pick up that extra shift each week when your work really matters to you.
Do your research before you pick an organization to volunteer with. Do you agree with their mission and values?
Plan to spend time training for the volunteer position you want. You should also prep
pare to be on a waiting list for some positions.
Make sure you have time in your schedule to commit to the organization. A good deal of time and training will be invested in you, make sure you are able to follow through with your commitment. Also make sure the hours needed to volunteer are compatible with your schedule. If the only time available to help is between 2:00 – 5:00 PM, but you work during day, it may not be the right fit for you.
Be responsible. As I mentioned earlier, it is vital for you to communicate with your contact at the organization if you are going to be late, need to change a shift, or are incapable of completing the task you were assigned.
Showcase your talents! When you go into the orientation, you will likely be asked to write down your skills and experience. Everything you know has the possibility to benefit the organization.
The process can sound like a lot of work, but if you’re passionate about the cause you are working for, it won’t seem like work. The holidays are a great time of year to begin volunteering. There are countless organizations that need help and it doesn’t stop once the New Year begins. Make it a resolution to commit a certain amount of hours a week to helping the non-profit of your choice.
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." Aesop
If for any reason you find your schedule won’t allow you to commit to a specific time and place, think about collecting items for the organization. Many non-profits are in need of something. For instance, if you are working with an animal shelter, see if you can collect pet food and beds from your family, friends and neighbors.
For other charities, you can help collect canned goods or gently used clothing. These are just a few general ideas. Some things people don’t often think about are collecting things like office supplies or used furniture for the employees of the organization. Non-profits are often in need of supplies for day to day operations and these things are easier to collect than you think. You and most people you know might have a stash of pens, paper clips or an old book shelf you’re not using.
These types of things are often overlooked and are a huge help to the individuals working in the facility. What else can be done to support your local community? Share your volunteering experiences with us. Where did you go? What did you learn? Have you ever organized a food or blanket drive? Tell us about the ways you donate your time.
Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead