Interested in change? 3 tips to channel passion into volunteering


The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

Injustice makes me mad. Suffering makes me sad. Seeing people in need just makes me want to help. 

Lately, we have all witnessed suffering and observed events that perhaps enraged our senses and shook our spirits to the core.

If the craziness of the world lights a fire under you to make a change, one productive way to channel your energy is by volunteering. 

For the past six months I served on the gala planning committee for South Suburban Family Shelter in Homewood. I have volunteered for SSFS on and off for several years.
I volunteer with SSFS because I feel passionate about the cause of ending domestic violence. Also, the office and events are close to my home, and the services aid people directly in my community.

In addition, I’ve volunteered for the American Heart Association, the Greater Chicagoland Food Depository and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, as well as churches, institutions and more.

Volunteering is an incredible way to connect with others over a shared interest or desire to affect change. It seems so simple, yet sometimes people have volunteer experiences that are less than fulfilling.

Here are my three biggest tips for how you can curate the most positive volunteer experience.

Find an organization you feel excited about supporting
We all want people to have homes, and no one wants to see someone die from cancer. That doesn’t necessarily mean we all have an ardent desire to support Habitat for Humanity or the American Cancer Society. 

What do you care about so much that you will set aside a whole Saturday and work for free? 

You don’t need to volunteer for a high profile organization to have a significant impact and a fulfilling experience. There are loads of hyper-local volunteer opportunities. You can find a place that makes you feel great about giving back.

Be honest, be flexible, be gracious
The purpose of your volunteering is to provide help to a person, agency or cause. 

Although you might gain satisfaction from your acts, an attitude of service must prevail; fulfillment comes later when you remember how hard you worked.

Though humility should drive your actions, be vocal about your skills. Volunteer managers want to know if you’re great with money, have sales skills or love working with your hands. I always offer to take note-taking roles or those in which I’m speaking to people. These are two things I enjoy and feel confident about.

Other times my skills and preferences are not discussed, and I’m assigned to assemble boxes. When you volunteer, be willing to take on any job as long as you feel safe in doing so. Always tell the volunteer leader if you have physical limitations such as lifting or standing for long periods of time. 

If you have a bad attitude about your volunteer assignment, you’re missing the whole point.

Understand the limitations of the organization
The first time you volunteer, you may be amazed at how few resources many nonprofit groups have at their disposal. You will encounter varied quality levels of organization, management and physical materials, forcing you to adapt and do the best with what you have.

Nonprofit organizations operate on small budgets, with multi-tasking staff and volunteer help. Do your best to add resources to your volunteer project, rather than requiring maintenance yourself. Show up on time and prepared; bring your own water and food; and take initiative if you see a job that needs to be done.

Most of all, don’t wait around for a pat on the back. While you may seek validation for your efforts, don’t expect more than a simple thank-you. When you volunteer, remember that it’s not about you. It’s about the people, animals or environment who are at the receiving end of your help.


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