If you’ve made it this far, you have a list of your skills, motivations, interests, likes, and experiences. You should also have a list of opportunities you’re interested in pursuing. Now I’m going to tell you a secret. Not all volunteer opportunities are equal. In fact, some of them might sound really great online, but when you get to your first day, it seems disorganized or doesn’t meet your expectations. You can avoid walking away disappointed. Organizations are going to screen you as a volunteer. This post will teach you how to screen them!
Does the organization have a volunteer manager?
Okay, so I might be biased, but volunteer managers are pretty important people. Hear me out, though. We’re around to make sure you have all the information you need to have fun and be successful while you’re volunteering. We also make sure the other volunteers you interact with are there for the right reasons. We’ll help you if something goes wrong, too. The organization should have someone designated for you to contact with questions and feedback throughout your experience. Make sure you know who this person is and how to connect with them. (Hint: We’re really busy, but if we don’t respond to you within a working day or two, that’s indicative of how you’ll be treated as a volunteer.)
Can you fulfill your SMILE checklist?
Ask the organization if you will have a chance to use your skills or fulfill your motivations for volunteering. If your goal is to meet new people, how often will you interact with other volunteers? If you want to use your artistic skills, will you be doing creative projects? You’re more likely to stick with your opportunity and enjoy it if it aligns with your checklist. Along with your checklist, be sure that the available opportunities fit your schedule and level of commitment.
Is there a training or orientation session?
Depending on the type of opportunity you choose, most organizations will prepare you with a training session. This could be a short, informal meeting or tour. It could be a half-day or full day session with presentations and activities. Whatever form it takes, the training should answer your questions, and you should walk away knowing what to expect on your first day of volunteering.
Can you shadow someone before you make a full commitment?
Many organizations have a way for you to “try before you buy.” These are usually shorter, one-time opportunities for you to interact with the population you’ll be serving. Some organizations will pair you with a veteran volunteer until you feel comfortable. At the very least, organizations may allow you to observe volunteers in action or talk with current volunteers before you decide. This is especially important if you’re making a decision to commit to a program for a longer amount of time.
What happens if you quit?
At my organization, we have volunteers who have been with us for decades! What happens if you don’t like the program, though? Can you do something else for the organization? What options are available if your schedule changes or you have to stop volunteering for a period of time? Ask these questions up front so you’ll know your options later.
Finally, don’t be afraid to walk away from an opportunity. If it won’t work for you or doesn’t sound like something you’re interested in, tell your volunteer manager. Good volunteer managers know that their opportunities aren’t right for everyone. Chances are, we might even offer you advice about another opportunity somewhere else if our opportunities aren’t right for you.
How did you find a volunteer opportunity that was right for you?
This is part three of a three part series entitled “Finding your Inner Volunteer.”