Several local organizations rely on volunteers to help run day-to-day operations and help with special events. Without the efforts and support of volunteers, many organizations would not be able to provide the services and support offered to local community members and the community as a whole. Understanding what is Volunteering and what a volunteer is, does and how important they are will give you a better appreciation for the time and effort you donate to help others.
What is Volunteering?
According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the volunteering definition is “any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives.”
In addition to the above requirements, a true act of volunteering occurs when one does it freely and is not forced upon himself or herself. Those looking to volunteer can find plenty of opportunities in local public or private organizations. There also are many community projects, such as environmental cleanups and awareness projects, across the country looking for volunteers to help.
What are the characteristics of a volunteer?
Volunteer programs look for a wide variety of individuals to help with their community projects. Personal experience, work experience and personal preferences are what determine which programs, organizations and volunteering opportunities are best for an individual. Some skills are in higher demand, but organizations generally have something available for anyone to fulfill.
Because volunteer work is unpaid, volunteers have to possess unique qualities and characteristics. According to the International Volunteer Card, these characteristics help make a great volunteer, one who is in higher demand for organizations looking for assistance. These qualities include:
- Be personally motivated and need little to no supervision
- Be flexible and willing to work various types of jobs, days and hours
- Have the time to volunteer
- Live locally or in a close proximity to the organization
- Be reliable and always show up when promised to be somewhere
- Have plenty of energy and be excited about the organization volunteering for
- Be creative and have a vivid imagination
- Have a high level of integrity
- Be willing to sacrifice to help others
To help better understand the answer to the question “What is a volunteer?” it is important to also know the importance of volunteering. The University of California – San Diego has published a list of the “Top 10 Reasons to Volunteer,” which shows why individuals should take the time to volunteer.
Here are those top 10 reasons:
- Reduces stress and makes you healthier
- Helps save on resources for the organization
- Gives volunteers professional experience needed for future employment and resume needs
- Brings people together as a community and promotes camaraderie
- Promotes personal growth and helps increase self-esteem
- Strengthens communities by supporting families, improving schools, supporting youth and beautifying the community
- Teaches volunteers about self-worth, local government and their community
- Creates an opportunity to give back to the community
- Encourages civic responsibility
- Offers satisfaction of knowing you made a difference
Every person counts when it comes to volunteering. Even if you can only offer a few hours on the weekend, those few hours can make a world of difference in your community.
What type of Volunteer Work is Available?
There are many different types of volunteer work available, making possible for individuals of all ages, backgrounds and experiences to donate their time. Here is a list of some of the most common volunteering work available:
- Ambulance services
- Fire services
- Telephone help-lines
- Environmental campaigns
- Survey and data collection
- Advocacy work
- Clerical duties
- Event organization and set up
- Ticket sales
- Pamphlet distribution
- Ticket takers
- Construction and engineering services
- Teaching classes
Where can I volunteer?
As mentioned above, there are many different types of volunteer work available right in your own local community. Because of a high need, there are many places to volunteer within communities of all sizes and demographics.
Here is a suggest list of where to volunteer:
- Animal Rescue Shelters
- National, state and local Parks
- Parks and recreation departments
- Local sports programs
- Food pantries
- Habitat for Humanity
- Local libraries
- Botanical gardens
- Art museums
- Political campaigns
- YMCA and YWCA
- Retirement homes
- American Red Cross
How to Volunteer
Once you have sorted through the many volunteer ideas, it is time to determine what type of volunteering you are willing to do and find an organization. Here are some tips to help you find the right organization and volunteer work:
- Know why you are volunteering: Is it to better your own life, someone else’s or it is because you are looking for something to do with your spare time? No matter your reason, it will be you motivation to keep volunteering.
- Know what you are good at: Take your personal experiences and determine what you are good at. Skills desired from volunteers include construction, people, medical and teaching. Just to name a few.
- Make a commitment that matches the need: Check with the organization to ensure that your skills and available time match what they are looking for from their volunteers.
- Find the perfect match: Volunteer opportunities can be found through online searches, by contacting local organizations, reading the newspaper or networking with friends and local community members.
- Be passionate about the organization: This will help ensure you enjoy your time as a volunteer.
- Contact the organization: Call the organization and make time when you can stop by and discuss your options. Ask about the different types of volunteers needed.
- Find out more about training: Ask if there is special training needed and how to complete all necessary training activities.
How to Inspire Others
Volunteering does not have to be a one person activity. Every person can make a difference. Inspiring friends, family and others in the community to join you in your volunteering efforts can make a huge impact on the organization’s bottom line and ability to help as many as possible.
The American Bar Association has published a list featuring the top ways to motivate others to volunteer. Here are some ways to help motivate and inspire others:
- Establish a clear set of goals for both volunteers and the organization
- Show volunteers the satisfaction they will get from volunteering
- Be positive about volunteering opportunities
- Encourage excitement about available opportunities
- Limit requests, for example, do not ask one person to always volunteer
- Be honestly sincere about the volunteer support you receive
- Keep an active and updated volunteering database and website where potential volunteers can see what is available
- Hold an annual hands-on training event
- Hold annual appreciation events, such as luncheons, banquets, picnics or awards ceremonies
- Keep volunteers updated with newsletters and emails
- Offer a variety of volunteering opportunities, giving volunteers the chance to change up what they do for your organization
The real volunteer meaning, is one who selfishly donates his or her time to help support and enhance the efforts of local organizations and individuals in need. There is a high demand for volunteers in several communities across the country. If you do volunteer with one organization and it is not the right fit, do not give up. There is an organization waiting for you and your skills.