This article is designed to help you find meaningful volunteer opportunities in your community and beyond. Now more than ever, there is great need by charities around the world for volunteers. If you have anywhere from an hour a week, to a few years, you can easily find a charity or community service you can give your time to. The work you do will not only help those in need, but also bring more meaning and perspective to your life.
Determine how much time you have to devote to your volunteer work. If you are not otherwise employed, because of the economy or because you are retired, think about long-term or full-time commitments. If you are a teenager or college student on summer break you will likely look for a charity that needs volunteers on a short-term basis. Likewise, if you are fully employed, but just want to give back to the community, look for opportunities that only require a few hours a week.
Next, think about any special skills you have that would be of help to a charity looking for volunteers. Are you a professional? Doctor, nurse, attorney, teacher, etc.? Do you have an occupational skill? Builder, electrician, farmer, chef, etc.? Or are you resourceful in other ways? A go to, make it happen kind of person with a lot of energy. What are you passionate about or interested in? Animals, children, the homeless, the elderly, or the environment?
Do you have the temperament to volunteer? This is an important question to answer, not only in deciding whether or not to volunteer, but also in finding those volunteer opportunities that will work for you, and the charity or community service organization that you work for. Probably the three most important traits of someone who is right for volunteer work are tolerance, patience and flexibility. Often times, many of the charities that you will volunteer for may seem to have organization issues. That makes sense when you think about the fact that many of them are made up of volunteers who may come together for a short period of time for a cause. You will be needed where you are needed, not necessarily always the exact job you had in mind. Remember you are a volunteer, there to help. You may also deal with beneficiaries of the charity, who are not necessarily similar to you either culturally or otherwise. If you might have difficulty in some but not all of these areas, look for an opportunity that lessens the chance you will have to deal with them. For example, office work or back of the house work that takes you off the front lines, so to speak.
Finally, where do you look for these volunteer opportunities? If you want to stay in your community, look at charities and community service organizations that you are familiar with. This could be your church, school, or other local charity. If you don't have a match there, contact your local United Way, or other local volunteer network, to see where they need someone with your interests or skills. Many communities now have web sites for matching volunteers to opportunities. If you are interested in a volunteer opportunity that is broader in geographic scope, consider organizations like AmeriCorps, which has VISTA and the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC); or the Peace Corps. The first two organizations are in the U.S. and the Peace Corps has volunteers in 74 countries around the world. If you want to expand the scope of your search beyond those organizations, there are web sites that list volunteer opportunities at home and abroad. I will list some contacts in the resources below.
If you are making a long-term volunteer commitment abroad, or away from home, make sure you know all the facts before going, and be upfront with the charity about any of your limitations.
Do what you are comfortable doing. You may find that with time, you realize you want and can do more.
Enjoy your volunteer work. It can be very rewarding for all parties.
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