Have you noticed that the holiday season brings all sorts of public service messages like “5 Ways to Get Involved in Your Community” or “10 Do-Good Activities for You and Your Kids”? While these notices may have good intentions, they are over-simplified – and have the potential to set up individuals for frustration and disenchantment. People are likely to discover that they can’t just walk into an organization, be received with open arms, and be put to work on the exact day of their choice (and without any application and screening process).
We’d like to suggest a more effective message which you can send out to the public. This advice might really help people get involved and have the best chance for a rewarding volunteering experience…which tends to encourage volunteers to stick around and help some more.
1. Start researching volunteer opportunities or thinking about ways you might contribute well BEFORE special days when volunteering becomes very popular. (In the U.S., the busy time is right before Thanksgiving or Christmas.)
2. Look around you. You might discover that you are needed right in your own neighborhood. Is there a homebound elderly couple needing some help with household chores, or a simple knock on the door and friendly “hello” once a week to make sure everything’s OK? What about a family that could use some babysitting help (hint, hint if you live in Cara’s neighborhood)? What about organizing a litter clean-up of your own block?
3. Contact a local church or other faith community. Many congregations have close relationships with community service organizations and have a hand on the heartbeat of a community, knowing what its most pressing needs are. Even if you’re not the religious type, simply say, “I’m not a member of your [congregation/church/etc.], but I’m looking for a respected service organization in the area. Do you have any suggestions?”
4. The various national databases on the Web let you search for volunteer opportunities by location, but don’t include every option available. Search online (or the old-fashioned way by the Yellow Pages and phone) to see if your community has something like a Volunteer Center or HandsOn Action Center. These resources are positioned to connect you with organizations looking for community help and many have their own online listings of local volunteer opportunities.
But first, think through what you most want to do as a volunteer. Do you want to help a particular cause or share a special skill? Make this a family activity or meet new friends? Serve for a few hours or on an ongoing schedule? The more specific you are, the more likely you will find the right volunteer opportunity for you.
5. If you really want to find an opportunity at the spur of the moment, search for a “fill-in-the-blank”-a-thon. Walk-a-thons, 5K Walk/Runs, and the like are very popular right now as fundraisers and they are a way to get an introduction to a cause or nonprofit organization. Such events usually require a registration fee or minimum contribution to help raise money, but the fun atmosphere can be worth it. In many cases, you can decide the morning of the event to participate and just need to arrive early to register.