The road to giving back is paved with good intentions. Perhaps you’re already an avid volunteer, or maybe you’re trying to figure out how to get involved for the very first time. How can you move forward and where do you start?
Giving back doesn’t happen overnight, and once you get past some of the myths surrounding it, you’ll want to figure out which types of volunteer opportunities speak to you most. There are many categories of volunteer work and figuring out what works will take some experimentation. Still, it’s always good to do your research too and know what’s out there!
The list below highlights some of the major ways that you can begin to get involved with charities and nonprofits in your area that are doing great work.
1. Direct Service Work
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Working one-on-one with someone can be the most challenging, albeit rewarding, volunteer experience. Direct service opportunities present a chance for volunteers to directly impact individuals and get a hands-on understanding of an organization’s work. Examples of direct service work include tutoring a student, helping someone secure public housing or food stamps, teaching a shelter group how to use a piece of computer software, and much much more.
*Specialized Direct Service. In addition to what’s above, you might consider direct service opportunities that are more specialized depending on your credentials. For example, a primary care doctor would make for a great volunteer doctor at a community health center that sees low-income patients, or a licensed immigration lawyer could choose to do good by representing immigrants in court cases pro bono (or at no charge).
2. Physical Service.
“Whatever good things we build end up building us.”— Jim Rohn
When I say physical service, I’m talking painting, construction, gardening and cleanups. Physical service is still direct service except that instead of working directly with the people who benefit, you’re working to improve the spaces that they occupy. It’s important work (think about how your own mood is affected by a physical space), not to mention a great way to get yourself moving. Examples of activities are building/restoring homes, painting murals in a school, and cleaning up trash on beaches and in parks.
3. Boards or Committees
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” — Henry Ford
Boards and committees are a great volunteer option if you prefer to serve long-term in more of a planning capacity. You can join an event committee to support a fundraiser, join your alma mater’s alumni committee, or get involved with other specialized groups (for example, Big Brothers Big Sisters has a volunteer committee specifically for young professionals.)
To set your expectations, there’s one more thing I should add. When you join a committee, odds are good that you’ll also be asked to give something financially.
4. Back-End Support
“With organization comes empowerment.” — Lynda Peterson
Events and direct service may be the most visible ways to get involved, but organizations need back-end office support as well! This can be anything: archiving folders, entering data into their operating system, building a website, balancing their books, or navigating a social media strategy. This type of volunteer opportunity is a great way to get acquainted with an organization’s staff and see how it works from the inside.
“The heart that gives, gathers.” — Lao Tzu
Donating is a simple and flexible way to support a cause. If you have clothes that you no longer need, consider bringing them to a Goodwill or Salvation Army instead. For thanksgiving, drop off some non-perishables at your local food bank. You can even travel to your nearest Red Cross to give blood. Take your impact a step further and round up some neighbors and friends to join you!
Whether you’re donating physical items or actual cash, your gift matters.
“Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving”. — Henry Rosso
It may be last on the list, but fundraising is a profoundly important avenue for giving back to organizations. In fact, many boards, committees and charity events are assembled with this purpose in mind.
Not to worry though. If none of those options speak to you, there are numerous ways to get involved with fundraising. For the athletes/runners, sign up for a marathon and run on behalf of your favorite charity. If you have a great relationship with an organization and an awesome residence, you could offer to host a fundraising dinner at your house. There’s really too many options to list here in full, but these are some ideas to get you thinking!
Tip: Some corporations encourage employee giving to charities, and might even match what you give (in time or money) to an organization. Check with your HR rep to see what sorts of programs are in place and how you can add a charity to their radar.
This list can’t capture the entire world of volunteer opportunities available, but if you don’t know where to begin, I hope it’s a helpful start!