I had a greatly inspiring conversation this week with a potential volunteer and new friend. Megan works for Slingshot SEO, and she’s just wrapping up that really great point in her life known as “the first year out of college.” I remember that time in my life pretty well, and I recall feeling all kinds of overwhelmed, excited, and a little bit chaotic. Megan and I met because she’s looking for something new to do to get involved in the Indianapolis community. She wants to meet people she might otherwise not get a chance to know and do something meaningful with that extra time she has now. Volunteering is one of the best ways to achieve both of those goals! My first year out of college, I spent a year as an AmeriCorps member, and it really solidified my commitment to service. When I started my first job after AmeriCorps, I remember having a lot of extra time that was no longer filled with extra-curriculars, homework, or staying up late in a friend’s dorm room. But how do you find the right volunteer opportunity for yourself? Here’s some of what I shared with Megan:
Volunteering should make you SMILE.
The hardest part about finding a volunteer opportunity can be deciding what kind of opportunity is the best fit for you.
Ask yourself what you do really well. Maybe you’re good at teaching others, working with your hands, organizing groups, or you speak a second language. Maybe you’re a writer, artist, or athlete. There are nonprofits who offer opportunities to use all of those skills! Think about how your professional skills might benefit a nonprofit, too. Organizations often need behind the scenes services so people with design, IT, clerical, law, or sales skills can be very useful, especially to small organizations.
Why do you want to volunteer? For my new friend, one of her primary goals is to meet others who share her interests. I steered her toward several opportunities where she would have a chance to meet new people, especially other Millennials. You might have a desire to learn a new skill or fulfill a spiritual desire to give back. Whatever your motivation, you’ll want to ask a nonprofit whether you can achieve those goals while volunteering with them.
This year, I personally decided I was interested in learning more about homelessness and how to serve people who are experiencing it. I sought volunteer opportunities through the point in time count, the Homeless Connect, and School on Wheels. What do you want to know more about? Who would you like to get to know in your city? What issues would you like to advocate for? Look for organizations where you can learn something new or increase your knowledge about an issue.
This seems easy, but it’s important to like your volunteer experience! You want to look forward to how you spend your time, right? (As a volunteer manager, I want you to like what you’re doing.) Consider whether you like being in a group, working with people one on one, or if you’d prefer to work alone. Maybe you prefer being around a certain age group of people, or you’d rather work with animals than people. Different opportunities will appeal to different people. There are volunteer opportunities for people who like being outside, people who like building things, people who like children, and people who like everything in between.
Similar to skills, consider your experience. If you’ve volunteered before, you might already know about something you’d like to do again. Maybe you want to increase your commitment to a cause. Find opportunities that are related to what you’ve done before. If you haven’t formally volunteered before, think back to the last time you helped someone else. What were you able to do? How did you feel? What did you enjoy about the experience? Sometimes, a personal experience from your own life may encourage you to volunteer. I had a great mentor as a kid, and now, I’m a Big Sister because I want to give back in the same way.
Need more help learning how to get involved? Next week, I’ll cover how to find specific volunteer opportunities and how to judge a potential volunteer opportunity or organization.
This is part one of a three part series called “Finding your Inner Volunteer.”
In the meantime, if you just can’t wait to volunteer, I’m currently recruiting for a really fun event, the Children’s Bureau Celebrity Cook-Off, happening October 4th. Contact me if you’re interested in more information!