Instead of the standard “what is it and how do you do it”, I chose to talk about what could make volunteering a richer experience for THEM. Yes, THEM, you know, the volunteers. By the way, I didn’t mean as opposed to or vs. the organizations and the clients. However, my intention was to hone in on 5 specific actions volunteers could take to ensure for a meaningful experience from their side.
Here’s what I suggested to the group:
1. Assess Your Contributions and Motivations
Assess what skills and/or experience you want to contribute and what you hope to get out of your volunteer experience. And figure out what type of opportunities meet at that particular place. People volunteer for different reasons. Sometimes, they’re simply looking to “do something good.” Other times, volunteers may want to try out new skills, contribute to a particular cause or try building their resume. Find opportunities where you make a contribution and your needs are met as well.
2. Understand Your Impact
Get in the habit of asking organizations about the end goals of your project and how your work contributes to those goals. Charitable organizations measure their impact – so should you. You may not have funders to answer to but your reasons are just as valid. Your volunteer time is finite so take the time to be sure it’s well spent. That knowledge allows you to allocate opportunities among organizations places where you can make the biggest difference.
For example, if you’re Captain of a team of mentors that works with 25 teens and they end up completing a 10K (yes, that’s a thank you to our TRW mentors!) – those numbers are powerful and worth knowing. Even more so, amazing to note what happens after the race as well.
3. Get Creative – Suggest, Design and Initiate
Don’t be afraid to suggest a volunteer path, role, or committee you believe makes a contribution to the organization’s mission. And ultimately, if you have a strong vision for a program that doesn’t exist yet, go for it! While organizations advertise set opportunities, get creative if you see a gap.
At the Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, where I had my first development role, there was a great group of young people from the community that came to us with a suggestion. They ended up forming a Young Leadership Committee that became the driving force behind our Block Party which turned into an annual fundraising event. This wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t come to us with this bright suggestion.
4. Tell Them You’ll Think About It – (a.k.a. Don’t Overcommit)
In 13 plus years of working in the charitable industry, I’ve decided that there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of time it takes someone to commit to volunteering, and the quality of their commitment. To make it a bit more literal, the more you’re promised in the first 10 minutes, the less will be delivered. Almost 100% of the time a volunteer candidate says they can’t wait to get started before seriously considering the opportunity, they’ve never shown up – even once. And the folks that offer to connect you with their rich uncle, their buddy the CEO – somehow, they evaporate like vapor the next time you try them by phone or email.
Is it just me?
So, take the time to digest what you’ve heard and tell the volunteer recruiter that you want to seriously consider the role. Think about the opportunity, the time commitment and what’s expected. Talk it over with your significant other, your kids whoever. Then call two days later to tell them you’re in. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it much more than your enthusiastic yes seven minutes after the two of you have agreed that it wasn’t too hard to find the place and that the weather in fact, is getting nicer.
5. Don’t Be Afraid To Move On
It’s a fact of life that people outgrow jobs, friendships, hobbies and yes, even volunteer roles and organizations. And trust me, once you’re volunteering and you DON’T want to be there anymore, you’re not helping anyone – not you, not the organization and certainly not clients. If you’re bored but like the organization, ask or suggest something new. If you need a wholesale switch, there’s nothing wrong with giving proper notice and seeking out new opportunities. Remember, like the Army says, this isn’t a job, it’s an adventure. Actually, it’s you contributing your time and energy.
So do it somewhere where you’re going to feel great about it.