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Volunteerism is a great way for organizations and individuals to give back to the community. According to research from the U.S. Census Bureau and AmeriCorps, nearly 51% of the U.S. population age 16 and older, informally helped their community. The activities included things like running errands for a neighbor, watching someone’s child, or conducting a wellness check for an isolated senior.
I know the last couple of years have been tough on volunteerism because of the pandemic. But as we spend less time talking about the pandemic, I wanted to remind us of the organizational and individual benefits that volunteerism can bring.
Organizations have an opportunity to support their community. Obviously, organizations can make donations – or offer matching dollars when employees contribute – but they can also offer support in terms of sharing the expertise of their employees. Companies can provide paid time off for employees who volunteer. They can organize volunteer events where employees work on a project for a non-profit like cleaning up a park or cooking for people experiencing homelessness.
I’ve worked for organizations that encouraged me to become a board member. It was great exposure for the company, and it was a valuable learning experience for me. As a human resources professional, I gained experience working with budgets much larger than my own. I improved my verbal and written business communication skills, including how to manage conflicts.
Individuals who volunteer can learn new skills and make new professional relationships. Volunteerism could reduce boredom and burnout. If someone feels like they’re in a bit of a rut, maybe a volunteer assignment could help them refocus and recharge.
BUT and this is a big caveat, the volunteer role needs to be the right one. Volunteer opportunities can be as toxic as your job. So, do your homework. Here are four things to consider:
- Think about what you want to do as a volunteer. Some people say they want to do things related to their current work. Like if I’m a graphic designer, I’ll do graphic design work. But others will intentionally look for something different. I once volunteered with someone who wanted to work in fundraising because they knew absolutely nothing about it and also wanted to gain selling experience.
- Research the organization. There are lots of wonderful organizations that need volunteers. Find the one that works for you. Maybe there’s an organization that has helped you or people close to you – and you want to give back. Or maybe there’s an organization nearby that you love their mission. Take time to find the organization that you’ll be proud to support.
- Ask questions about volunteer expectations! Organizations should be able to tell you what they need from a volunteer – upfront. Some organizations need volunteers on certain days / hours. You’ll want to know that in advance. Also find out if there’s an expectation that you’ll also donate. I once started volunteering for an organization that waited until after I became a volunteer to tell me that they expected a financial contribution.
- Think about your exit strategy. This might sound weird but think about the conditions that might cause you to stop volunteering. Organizations change and individuals change. We might begin volunteering and at some point, realize we can’t anymore. But we still want to support the organization. So just think about what you might be willing to do if you must step away whether it’s for a short period or permanently.
If you’re looking for a new way to learn and contribute, volunteerism is a valuable experience both personally and professionally. But finding the right volunteer opportunity can take some time. That initial investment in research can offer huge benefits and lifetime rewards.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Tampa, FL38