June 14, 2010

How to get involved and give back this summer

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This originally appeared as a guest post on VolunteerSpot’s Summer of Service blog series.

Sloane BerrentIknow what many people say. They want to give back but they don’t know how. They want to get involved and volunteer in their community but they don’t know where to start. Well, we’re here to help!

In just one hour, you’ll have the ideas, tools, resources and motivation to get started. So let’s start this summer off with a new sense of how to give back.

For a lot of people, they go online to volunteer websites and start scrolling through the options. Everything looks good, or nothing, or somewhere in between, and they’re not sure what to pick. This is the vortex of indecision, and not where you should start!

First, block an hour from your calendar when you won’t be distracted and can sit and focus on the task at hand. Sit in a comfortable place with a blank piece of paper or in front of a blank document on your computer (with your browser closed!) and follow along with the exercise below. You’ll be identifying the key components needed to finding a nonprofit right for you and then we’ll provide the resources where you can find that match. Ready? Let’s go!

Write down the names of nonprofits that interest you. These can be nonprofits you’ve donated to in the past — maybe you’ve participated in a walk or event or have read about a cause or charity and are interested in learning more. Geographic location doesn’t matter; just start making creating a list of those nonprofits.

Write down the type of nonprofits or causes that you’re passionate about. My list would look something like: economic development, grassroots environmental groups, women’s issues (specifically girls’ education and financial literacy), health issues (specifically malaria prevention and treatment) and poverty alleviation. For you maybe it’s children or pets or house building. There is no right number to write down, if the list gets longer than five, prioritize your list to make going back later and looking at it easier for you.

Write down the type of skills or environment you want to volunteer in. Are you looking to lend your current professional expertise like create a marketing plan for a small nonprofit or provide legal counsel in a pro bono setting, or are you looking to do something completely different like plant a garden in a school or walk dogs at shelter? Do you want an opportunity you can do at home like translation services for an international aid organization, or do you want to be around a group of people? Volunteer opportunities vary greatly as do the types of skills that they are looking for. Many nonprofits need volunteers to do critical items for them — phone banks and mailings to donors — but also offer other opportunities that aren’t as vital but may provide one-on-one interaction with the constituents they serve.

How much time do you have to give? Do you want to be a regular volunteer (once a week or once a month) or would you prefer to be called in as needed? Do you want to sign up for a commitment for a certain period of time? Do you want to volunteer at night, or on weekends or during the day? Are you looking for an opportunity for a specific period of time like two weeks in July or something ongoing? Do you want something local or are you looking for a destination volunteer opportunity? All of these questions help with the roadmap that is creating a filter system in advance to help you find the perfect match.

Many nonprofits could use pro bono services or in-kind gifts. Volunteering doesn’t have to be a silo — if you can offer a mix of services, go for it! For example, last year I helped a homeless shelter start an e-newsletter to their donors but also fed the homeless. While they needed my hardware skills, I also really wanted to do the software part and was very upfront with them and we created a schedule that let me do both.

Remember, volunteering is not always the best place to pick up a new skill! Reading to inner city kids or becoming a mentor often come with mandatory training, but a nonprofit’s resources are extremely limited and it’s hard on them to be teaching all new skills. If you really want to help a nonprofit in an area unfamiliar to you, do your research first and educate yourself and then go to them with your new skill set.

Hopefully, you now have a list in front of you that defines what causes you are passionate about, what interests you, how you are looking to give back and how often. Now all you have to do is find a place to volunteer! Reach out to people you know who are active in the community and be specific about what you’re looking for, use social media to tell your friends you’re looking to volunteer and asking them for help finding the right opportunity. Do your online research!

Volunteering is one of the most rewarding activities in my life; I hope this activity helps you find the same passion to create a cause-filled life of your own!

Resources to get started

Volunteer Match
AllforGood’s search tool on VolunteerSpot
10 volunteering sites to help you do good (Socialbrite)
How nonprofits can use passionate volunteers (Socialbrite)
15 social tools for local impact (Socialbrite)

I’d like to dedicate this blog post to my friend, Micah Baldwin, who inspired me to think about to talk to people about getting involved which in turn, inspired this post.

VolunteerSpot’s free online coordination tool saves leaders time and makes it easy for more people to say YES to making a difference.

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  • Sloane Berrent is a cause-based marketing consultant who works with nonprofits and social cause organizations. See her business profile, contact Sloane or leave a comment.

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