By Kristine Villaflor
This is Part 2 of Kristine’s blog series on volunteering. Click here to read Part 1.
This post is for anyone that is already convinced themselves that, “Yes, I want to volunteer!” But how, where and when to start?
I’m from the Philippines and have been here for five months now. My first few months were amazing, as I spent it more on exploration and discovery of places, culture, and new things – and visiting with friends. As time goes by, and my travels have come to a phase of slowing down, I thought of pursuing one of my bucket list items: To volunteer while traveling, as a “Voluntourist” (a term for a traveler that does volunteer work/tasks).
The first thing I did was go to Google and look for volunteer opportunities around the area – one that will only require me to bike or walk. These are the specific requirements I looked for, and since I didn’t have enough resources to go beyond my current capability of moving around, I focused on organizations in my local community. In terms of which organizations or what skills needed, I didn’t give much attention to that (I have a background professionally working with NGOs and foundations that do social development projects in my country).
Having said that, I found many organizations around Pittsboro that I could contact for volunteer opportunities. One of them is Habitat for Humanity, which I’m very much aware of already because I have worked with this organization in the Philippines. I got excited because not only am I familiar with the organization, but I strongly believe in their programs and how they shape other lives by providing affordable housing, one of the basic needs that we need to have for safety and security. Their website was easy for me to navigate and find out how to connect. I instantly sent an email address to their Volunteer Program Manager. A day later, I received a call from her to schedule a volunteer orientation. I attended the orientation, and she explained opportunities to volunteer. We both agreed on the tasks, and she gave me open communication any time I wanted to work on something new with the organization, which made it sound wonderful for me. Currently, I volunteer once a week in both the office and the ReStores.
As you can see, I easily found my way to volunteer because I knew what to do and what to look for. What about those who are just starting their volunteer journeys?
There are certain guidelines that can help you decide where to volunteer. You don’t want to end up feeling forced to volunteer at a place you don’t enjoy. In volunteering, you don’t always need certain skill requirements; what is important is your compassion and dedication to commit. But isn’t it more significant and meaningful if you choose to volunteer where you can fit your interests and passions?
Below are some of the tips on how to find an ideal place to volunteer. I’ve summarized some main points from this Forbes article. I have taken many of these into consideration during my early introduction to volunteering.
- Know what you have to offer
Think strategically; think about volunteering as your door of opportunity. You might want to think about the skills that you want to hone while volunteering so you can better work on your personal growth and help the organization provide the right match for you.
- Consider your true purpose
Ask yourself the main reason why you’re volunteering. Is it because you adhere to the organization’s mission? Do you want to meet new friends? Learn new skills? Spend your free time volunteering? Or just simply that you want to help and make a difference?
- Be realistic about your availability
Be aware of the time requirements. Some organizations will give you certain hours or days for a volunteer task. If it’s too much for you, then find another that will align your schedule.
- Decide where and how you want to make a difference
Envision the type of organization you want to work with. Do you prefer serving with a nonprofit, a foundation, your church-based group, or any groups or clubs in your community?
- Reach out to Alumni and faith-based networks
You may want to start with these organizations. As you know some of the people within your networks, you may find yourself more comfortable while discovering your volunteer journey with them.
- Check out websites geared to skill-based volunteering
These organizations provide you with more specific information in terms of the tasks, skill requirements, and time:
- VolunteerMatch.org, Idealist.org, Handsonnetwork.org, Catchafire.org (for professionals)
- Serve.gov and TaprootPlus.org (for pro bono work)
- Encore.org (has a searchable map that shows 55+ volunteer programs around the country)
- Look for places that let you interview before committing
Treat volunteering as a serious commitment to the organization. Some require an interview to know more each other, see what are the expectations are of each party, and decide later if you and the organization are a good fit.
- Investigate local nonprofit matchers
Every local volunteer matching organization has a main contact person that can help you and act as your advisor to introduce you to the volunteering world. (Some local ones are Chatham Connecting, the Triangle Nonprofit and Volunteer Leadership Center, and United Way of Chatham County).
- Start with baby steps
Know that you are still learning from experience. Commit to a short-term project, and later if you find yourself enjoying it, then aim to reach another level. This not only will help the organization, but you are helping yourself grow too.
Now that you know these tips, contemplate and assess how you want to start your volunteer journey. Good luck, and may you achieve your goals as a happy and fulfilled volunteer.
Feel free to connect with Chatham Habitat for Humanity, and learn about our upcoming volunteer opportunities here.