It’s Never Too Late … Become A Volunteer

Photo Credit: Corbis

Volunteers make the world go round. Organizations, social services, religious groups, civic and neighborhood groups, service organizations, and charitable groups count on the vast contributions of volunteers in terms of time and effort to succeed in their respective missions.

On a local basis, volunteers are regarded by many as the glue that holds together communities and represent an essential resource that few communities can do without.

Volunteering, however, is not a one-way street. Volunteers reap many benefits as a result of their contributions. They connect with their communities in ways that cannot otherwise be emulated. They gain a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing that they are helping others in making a difference. Invariably, volunteering leads to the development of new friendships, an expanded social network, and enhanced social skills.

The opportunities to volunteers are virtually endless. For any community with a United Way office, legions of volunteer openings are available because the local office maintains a logbook of organizations seeking help.

Opportunities Abound
You can visit Charity Navigator, at, as another route of identifying organizations that have needs for specific types of volunteers. All For Good, at, allows potential volunteers to see how their interests correlate with organizations in need.

To get started in volunteering, however, you don’t need any direct resources or matching services. Simply consider the groups in your community where you have interest. All of them would appreciate hearing from someone who has time and energy to devote, like you.

Volunteering your services at an elementary, middle, or high school library, for example, might be of interest to you. Is there a local boy’s club or girl’s club in your community? You can be a den master or troop leader for Scouts, Explorers, and other types of youth groups. You can be a little league coach, or if you’re fearless, an umpire. You can become a youth basketball coach, or simply the scorekeeper. You can help out at a local Goodwill store, with the Salvation Army, or in a PTA thrift shop.

You can be a Big Brother, a Big Sister, or an aid to stay-at-home seniors. You can work the phones at fund-raising drives for public television, for radio stations, or any group that needs to raise funds. You can help at hospitals, soup kitchens, or other social service organizations. You’ll never run out of volunteer possibilities.

Make the Best of It
Once you decide to commit your time and energy to a worthy cause, here are tips to help you optimize your experience as well as your contribution:

  • Make a commitment to the host organization as if you were in a high-salary position. Charitable organizations have goals just like other organizations, and ambivalent volunteers do not help them meet their goals.
  • Stay focused on the mission. In many respects, volunteering has become trendy–people sometimes become involved in organizations as a way of establishing their own personal image. However, do not let personal motives dampen your effectiveness when it comes to lending the support that you have pledged.
  • Remain as flexible as you can. Most volunteer positions require an ability to work well with others, sometimes proceeding with little direction, and having to improvise in the face of fewer resources than is favorable. The ability to adapt to situations and apply yourself to changing needs goes a long way in providing the kind of assistance that the organization needs.
  • Be wary of over-committing. Whether you are still a full-time employee or retired, your days likely fill up just like everyone else’s. Before verbally committing to a volunteer schedule, think through the practicality of the situation. Can you honor your commitment, not run yourself ragged, not disappoint others, and still come up smiling?
  • If it helps, write up a checklist of issues that matter to you regarding the request to volunteer. Consider such factors as hours, length of commute, support, nature of the work, fellow volunteers, mission of the organization, duration, level of complexity, and any other factors pertinent to your situation.
  • Recognize whether you are better suited for one-shot and temporary types of volunteering versus longer-term campaigns. If you’re unsure about what kind of commitment you can make, start with short-term bouts and let your experience dictate whether or not you want to make a longer-term commitment.
  • If it’s practical to do so, talk to other volunteers within the arena you are considering as well as outside of it. Their insights and experiences can prove to be useful to you when considering your own situation.

Sometimes the best possible volunteer opportunities for you are those that enable you to “kill two birds with one stone.” Suppose you’ve been thinking about improving your culinary skills. You might like to volunteer at a local food bank where you can cook the evening meal. If you’re seeking to lose a few pounds, you could volunteer for assignments that involve physical activity such as clearing a trail, sprucing up a park, or leading a hike. If you find that one “perfect match” where you accomplish some vital personal goal while performing great deeds for the host organization, you might have latched on to a volunteer opportunity that can sustain you for years.