This article appears in print and online in the September 2013 issue of Parent News.
It’s that time of year again. The kids are back to school. You’re just settling into a routine, and the requests for volunteers start rolling in. You’re needed for a new PTO fundraising campaign. Your child’s teacher needs a class mom. Church needs Sunday school instructors. Volleyball needs a coach. Your community is organizing a clean-up day and they want you to be a team captain. They’re all great causes, but you can’t possibly give your time to all of them, nor should you try.
I’ve been on both sides of this story. For years I served as a volunteer manager for a state agency. Since then, I’ve given my time for a variety of organizations. Some have been very rewarding and some were total disasters. While I can’t encourage you enough to be generous with your time and talents, there are a few keys to picking the right opportunity that will make you feel like you’re getting as much as you’re giving.
- Start by choosing a cause you truly care about. Everyone needs help, but if you’re not an animal lover, volunteering at the Humane Society isn’t going to be particularly meaningful to you.
- Be honest with yourself and the organization about how often you’re willing to volunteer, the amount of time you’ll have to spend, your interests, and preferences. Think about whether you prefer to work in groups or alone. Do you want to do a one-time project or something ongoing? Does your personality lean towards leadership or being a worker bee?
- Make sure you understand the job you’re being asked to do. If the organization can’t be specific about what your responsibilities will be, consider that a red flag.
- Inquire about liability. Some organizations assume none and it could be your financial freedom at risk if even the slightest mistake is made.
- Share your expertise and ideas! Fresh perspective and someone to take on something new is often welcomed, and can be fun.
- Honor your volunteer commitments. You’re important and folks are depending on you. With that said, be ready to leave those commitments behind upon completion if they don’t work for you. Your time and talent is valuable. Not every opportunity works for everyone and that’s okay.
- If you are unable to help, politely say “no” and mean it. Those needing volunteers can be persistent. While they’re well-meaning, you have to ready to defend your time and willingness to spend it when it isn’t convenient or of particular interest. Don’t be pressured.
Volunteers make the world go round. Their contributions do amazing things in our communities. Finding the right match for you can be incredibly gratifying for you, the organization, and those it serves. Now get out there. Someone needs your help!
Photo credit: Flickr
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