Contributed by Adrian Jamieson, MPA, Volunteer Manager at Voices for CASA Children
There are lots of reasons to love volunteerism. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “Doing well so that I can do good.” In the case of volunteerism, it’s almost the opposite: “doing good” makes you feel well… and happy. Just like exercising, volunteerism in service to others can release endorphins into your body, giving you that wonderful “glowing” sensation often associated with a great workout. In fact, studies actually show that volunteering can help mitigate chronic pain. (But wait – there’s more!) The benefits of volunteering go beyond making you feel great just today; there is also evidence that individuals who being volunteering earlier in their lives are less likely to be ill later in life and have lower mortality rates.
Think about that for a moment: volunteering can improve mental and emotional health, and ultimately lay the foundation for a happy life. Everyone benefits from acts of service.
Still, while we all want to volunteer because it is good for our communities and has some amazing health benefits, sometimes we need to be practical and thoughtful when deciding where and how to apportion our free time. There are three important guidelines to ensure that you will receive all the benefits of volunteerism:
Guideline 1: What’s your WHY? Know what you want in a volunteer role.
First and foremost, you need to know why you want to volunteer. Consider what you have to offer, and what is being offered to exercise your skill set. Maybe you are entirely altruistic, or maybe you need to build your resume. It could be both! Either way, this will affect how you search for and evaluate potential volunteer opportunities.
Guideline 2: Is this a short or long-term relationship?
You will also want to think about how much time you realistically are able to give. Are you looking for a one-time event or do you want to engage with an organization on a weekly or monthly basis? And, what are your passions? Do you love working with children? Do you have a special interest in ending homelessness, or do you want to educate your community about how to live a healthier life? Using your passion in service to others with a timeframe in mind is what can make a volunteer opportunity feel like true love. There are organizations out there that are looking for just what you want to offer! You just need to do a little groundwork to find them.
Guideline 3: Be realistic.
Now, it’s time to be honest. You’re in an organization’s office, warehouse, or coffee shop, and the volunteer manager says to you “So, tell me how you’d like to be involved.” It can be very tempting to get caught up in the “fluff” or idealism of this conversation and over commit, but now is the time to consult the questions you asked yourself in the first place. If you are honest about your expectations, availability, and goals, a volunteer manager should be able to tell you whether or not the organization has an appropriate role for you. Don’t feel badly if they don’t, but be grateful they are being honest with you. Remember, you are looking for a “true love” match here, and honesty is an important ingredient in any healthy relationship. And so is taking the time to find the right fit.
Volunteerism is a great use of your time; not only will it make you feel great, it will help you grow your network, learn new skills, share and find new passions, and it will provide substantial experience on your resume. When you can define your WHY and locate an organization you admire with which to have an honest conversation about expectations, you’ll recognize the right opportunity when it comes along. Kind of like finding true love. Once you’ve found the right volunteer opportunity for you, you’ll find that you will connect with the people around you. You’ll likely want to rearrange your schedule so that you can do more volunteering, and you’ll know that what your doing is having real impact on you and your community. Take the time to do it thoughtfully and intentionally, and soon you’ll be loving the way volunteerism makes you feel all year!