There are a million reasons not to volunteer in your community. But the best one I’ve ever heard is probably the most honest. “I don’t want to.” And if you don’t want to – don’t. But I want you to want to.
A few years ago, I was working on a web site design with a local non-profit. One of the contributors was a guy I only corresponded with via e-mail. I struggled a bit as to how he should be a part of the project. He wasn’t really a designer. He wasn’t a programmer. He knew a little HTML and that was about it. But he was more enthusiastic than anyone I knew. He was always coming up with ideas of how to make something better, more engaging and more accessible. Even so, he wasn’t very fast with his tasks and I was worried about how much I could count on him. I approached the director of the organization who told me why he was slow. He is a quadriplegic. Everything he does on the computer, he had to do with his eyes. He volunteered because “he wanted to give something back.”
We all have something to give. Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what that is. So here are five reasons why you should figure it out.
1. You decide who. It’s a good place to start. My passion is autism because of my son with ASD. But it doesn’t have to be that personal. Maybe you’d like to help the homeless. Or the blind. Or the elderly. But you get to decide. Has someone made a difference in your life? Who do you think could really use your help? That’s your “who.”
2. You decide what. Are you an accountant who wants to use your expertise? Are you a woodworking buff who wants to use your hobby? Or have you always wanted to learn how to sew but didn’t know where to learn how? For every “what” there’s a way to plug into your community. And whatever that is, I promise you’ll be appreciated for it more than you’ll ever know.
3. You decide where. I can almost guarantee you there are places to volunteer close to where you live. Or, if you’re willing to go to Haiti or Chile or Sudan, I can absolutely guarantee you there are people there who will gladly accept whatever you have to offer. But there are needs everywhere, so you make that call. The “where” has to work for you, too.
4. You decide how. I bet the biggest reason for not getting involved as a volunteer is the lack of time. The fear is that the volunteer organization will suck away all your “free” time. Don’t get me wrong. They’ll probably take all you are willing to give. But that goes both ways. Can you carve two hours a month out of your Xbox 360 schedule? Fine. Are you looking for something to do every Wednesday from 6 to 10pm? Great. Want to be a board member? A paper shuffler? A ditch digger? Doesn’t matter. The “how” is what you make it.
5. You decide when. It would be great if, after your read this piece, you got up and made that phone call or stopped by that office to get started. But that’s up to you. I can tell you that you may be surprised at how thoughtful many organizations can be about when they plug you in to what they’re doing. They may say there’s a great opportunity for you next month. Or next summer. But you won’t know that until you make contact and let them know you’re out there. I can tell you, though; it’s very much like quitting something – like smoking. You can always rationalize that the best time is sometime other than now. Actually, now is good.
So, where do you go from here? My suggestion is to take one of my points of departure from above and let that be your pivot point. Let’s say it’s the “what.” But what if your “what” is your passion for hand gliding? How can that turn into a volunteer opportunity? Well, what if you gave time to special needs kids who’d like to do tandem rides? I bet you could find an organization that could get you started. If not, you could start one! The most important step is that first one, where you commit to doing – something.
If you’re still unsure, consult an organization in your community. Sit down with someone from your local United Way, arts council or Habitat for Humanity. Talk it through. Talk to more than one, if you need to. Ask friends, coworkers or family members what works for them. That kind of free exchange could point you toward something you never would have thought of on your own.
Still stuck? Try VolunteerMatch.org. As of this posting, they had 61,413 volunteer opportunities. It’s a great place to start.
But do something. Your life will be richer. And you’ll make someone else’s life better. It’s the ultimate win-win. And it’s completely up to you to decide.
How do you volunteer?