So you recently came into some free time, or you've had a bout of such good luck you want to pass it on. Whatever the reason, you've decided it's time to hop on the nonprofit train. Awesome! The only problem is that if you don't know where to start,
finding a place to volunteer can prove more difficult than expected. Do you go for the big-name organizations or try for a local one? How do you let people know you're looking to volunteer without resorting to wearing a "free labor" sign on your days off? I suppose you could go for the latter tactic, but there are easier ways to go about volunteering.
Once you're an adult, volunteering tends to be one of the first activities to fall by the wayside when things get hectic. However, it's not just good for the people you help along the way;
volunteering is literally good for your physical and mental health. Research has shown it can make you feel more socially integrated, and there's evidence regular volunteers have lower blood pressure, possibly by reducing stress and getting people moving. It's also a mood booster — one that makes you feel like you have more free time.
But even discounting all the ways volunteering is good for you, the fact remains that it's good for the community. Here's how to find somewhere you'll enjoy volunteering.
Choose An Area Of Interest
It ought to come as no surprise that you're going to have more fun volunteering if you're interested what you're doing. Choose an area that fascinates you. If you love animals, for example, look into animal shelters. If you've always been interested in health, check out the volunteer program at the nearest hospital.
By the way, don't feel obligated to stick to areas you're familiar with. Volunteering is an excellent way to learn new skills for free, so now is the chance to do try something you've never done, whether it's learning to roof a house with
Habitat for Humanity or gardening at your local community center.
Once you've decided where you want to focus, figure out how much time you have to volunteer. Are you looking for a weekly shift where you're expected to show up at a certain time, or would you rather start with a one-time opportunity? If your schedule is free at the moment but likely to fill up in the next few months, keep that in mind. Know how much time you can commit before contacting organizations, or else you might overextend yourself.
If you already have an organization in mind, pull up their website and contact the volunteer coordinator; virtually every nonprofit has one. Otherwise, start searching for nonprofits focusing on your area of interest. You can check out Craigslist's volunteer section, or search the
Corporation for National and Community Service database. If all else fails, you can just use Google.
If you're still unsure, there are plenty of volunteer matching services online.
VolunteerMatch, Idealist, and Points of Light are all excellent resources connecting prospective volunteers with organizations in their area.
Ask About Available Positions
Now that you've chosen a nonprofit, contact them to inquire about available positions. If you're eyeing a well-known, national organization, don't be surprised if they have more than enough volunteers (but do enjoy the restoration of your faith in humanity). Ask about the time commitment, duties required, training opportunities, and so on — basically, treat it like you're looking for a job.
Finally, if you can get a tour, go for it. Aside from the facilities, pay attention to the people you'll be working with; your fellow volunteers can make or break an experience.
None of these are hard-and-fast rules, but keeping these guidelines in mind should make it easier to find somewhere you'll have fun volunteering. Even if you scale back eventually, you'll treasure the experience and relationships you made while volunteering for years afterward.