It's 2017! Is one of your resolutions to Be A Better Person this year? Good on you — but for those of us introverts with a limited amount of social energy and the need to replenish it quietly, the concept of volunteering can be an overwhelming one. The idea of running around in groups making or doing Useful Charitable Things, fundraising on the phone, or any of the other people-facing parts of being philanthropic is not for us. Alas, not all of us can be Bill Gates and quietly run charitable foundations without actually needing to talk to anybody — so how can a person with heavily introverted tendencies still manage to volunteer their time and skills without being exhausted?
Introversion doesn't have to stand in the way of volunteerism. It often takes a while to understand what your social limits are when it comes to doing good; I've done providing homework help for small Sudanese refugee children (difficult but rewarding), doing admin and creative planning for a kid's museum (brilliant and nobody talked to me), and this year I'm doing pen pal projects that utilize my unintentionally fancy handwriting and love of receiving mail.
Being an introvert doesn't massively limit your charitable opportunities. If you want to offer your time, you can still do good and keep yourself safe and happy. Here's how.
Become A Pen Pal For A Senior Citizen
This is my preferred route — and let's face it, there's basically nothing as glamorous as buying some fancy writing paper and a glorious pen for a good cause. Many organizations run "befriending" programs for seniors who don't have family or aren't close to them; loneliness is a significant problem among certain parts of the senior population, particularly in care homes, and your little introvert self can help out.
And if you think being a pen pal with an elderly person will shape you up for a bunch of boring anecdotes, think again. I've been the pen pal of an elderly family friend in Australia for years, and she (along with updating me on every member of her extended family) regularly relates run-ins with nuns, bizarre cooking episodes, and misadventures from her past that would make Clark Gable blush. Don't just march up to an elderly person and ask if you want to write to them; investigate official programs that take care of vulnerable elders and screen letters.
Look For Research & Grant Writing Opportunities
Volunteering opportunities tend to be marketed as hands-on, out in the world, and group-oriented: building orphanages, feeding the hungry, and other attention-grabbing stuff that would be hard work for introverts. As experts point out, though, a lot of the actual work that goes into maintaining a philanthropic volunteering organization is quieter and less likely to look good on Instagram. They, like every other NGO, need people to balance the books, write grants for money, organize their stationery cupboard, clean up after events, and other less social deeds that fit introverts.
You'll also likely be in demand; Cristopher Bautista advises at Volunteer Match that organizations looking for volunteers should look for introverts and extroverts, as "both types of volunteers offer equally important skills." Museums and other cultural organizations are often on the look-out for volunteers who can help with quieter, isolated tasks, so spread your search out wide.
Walk Dogs For A Shelter
If you're a much bigger fan of the great outdoors and canine companions than people, there's a volunteering opportunity for you. Dog shelters are often in need of volunteers for dog care, and walking multiple canines every day, as is required for their health, is generally a large strain on their schedule (some dogs get taken out as little as once a week).
You'll likely need to demonstrate that you're a dog person and know how to deal with nervous or upset animals (and learn how to if you don't), but a gig as a walker may fit a more socially reclusive type. Just don't get too attached to dogs, as they're likely to be adopted and go off to their forever homes (or get put down if they're not). Shelters also often need behind-the-scenes care, from cleaning bedding to mopping floors, if you're keen for more canine time. If your closest shelter doesn't need walkers, ask what kind of help they do need.
Trees don't talk. It's one of their most rewarding qualities. And there are, fortunately, a good selection of volunteer organizations that require you to spend a lot of time with them, generally by planting new ones. Generally, tree-planting events will be in a mass of people, but as you'll be focused on an individual task, you may not have to do much actual socializing and can pay attention to the more important matter of getting a tree in the ground. Arboretums and national wildlife parks also often require volunteers who are willing to get out, get their hands dirty, and help in the maintenance and upkeep of gardens and grounds.
Become A Big Brother Or Sister
One of those introverts who does a lot better one-on-one or with a kid? Being a big brother or sister and providing adult support for a kid who needs it might be a good channel for your reserves of social energy. One of the main ways to do this effectively is through Boys & Girls Club Of America, which famously runs a mentorship program pairing up kids with volunteer adults. There are other organizations that do the same thing, though, so don't just limit yourself to a local chapter. Be aware that you'll likely have to pass a criminal records check and fulfill other criteria, and that this isn't for people who don't know how to relate to children or can only volunteer for a short period of time.