In the spirit of National Volunteer Week, I hope you have plans to go out and give back somewhere in the next few days. (And if you don’t, no worries. We need volunteers every week of the year.)
Volunteering can be as simple as showing up for your assignment, or it can be more. By putting our best foot forward when serving for a cause, we position ourselves to give (and get) more from our experience. It makes sense – the time that we spend away from our lives to focus on and help others should feel nice, but it should also be meaningful. Right??
Let’s do it then! Consider these 10 tips for standing out and completely rocking your next volunteer activity.
1. Show up.
Seriously. People who drop their volunteer commitments at the last second create a real hassle for event organizers. Showing up – or giving advance notice if you can’t make it – really helps everyone out!
2. Do your research.
Try to familiarize yourself with the organization before you show up on their front door. You don’t have to know everything there is to know, but reading up on their mission will provide context to help put you in the right frame of mind to get involved.
3. Ask questions.
This is a learning opportunity after all, right? Ask questions about the project, the organization, the problem, and their impact. Volunteer coordinators want to create experiences that touch their volunteers and sharing knowledge is part of that equation. If you’re volunteering directly with clients or community members, be sure to get to know them as well.
4. Be open.
Volunteer experiences can expose us to lifestyles or realities that feel worlds apart from our own. Reserve judgment – it’s not what you’re there for! – and focus on the part you can play in that moment to make a difference.
5. Be kind.
This should go without saying, but it’s on this list as a friendly reminder. Cruelty and cynicism does nothing for the people around you, and it certainly has no place in a volunteer setting. Be kind when giving your time – to constituents, staff, and your fellow volunteers.
6. Be fair.
It’s easy to point out flaws or imperfections when you’re on the outside of a problem looking in. Remember that when it comes to solving social justice problems – and a nonprofit’s capacity to do this – the answer isn’t always as simple as it seems.
7. Be timely.
This is related to the first point. Try to be timely when communicating with staff and showing up for volunteer shifts. You will be the apple of your volunteer program manager’s eye if you’re the volunteer who always responds to emails and adheres to deadlines!
8. Be prepared.
We’re all guilty of skimming emails and glazing over details that should really get our attention. Make sure you read the fine print for your volunteer opportunity and come prepared to participate (especially if there are strict requirements for certain projects, like waiver forms or wearing closed-toe shoes for physical service).
9. Give feedback.
Like I mentioned, Volunteer Program coordinators want people to have a positive experience with their organization so that they can continue to grow. If there’s something you really enjoyed about your experience, say it. (It really brightens a staff member’s day to read those types of emails.) If there’s something you think can be changed, say that too. Your input may affect future volunteer programming and help improve the experience!
10. Spread the word.
If you had a wonderful time and learned a lot, then tell people in your circle about it! You’ll amplify your impact as a volunteer by spreading awareness to others about a cause, helping the organization recruit more supporters, and potentially introducing someone to a perspective-altering experience.
Volunteering gives us the opportunity to do good for others, but we also get a lot personally from the experience. That’s why when we give back, we should strive to give our best.
What else makes for a rockstar volunteer?