First, it's wise to be clear about why you want to volunteer and how you want the activity to benefit both you and others. Begin by asking yourself some pointed questions, including:
- What specific gifts do you have?
- Which skill sets do you most enjoy sharing?
- Where do you feel a sense of gratification for the investment of your time?
- Do you want to be social with others and work in a team? Would you prefer to contribute in a more solitary way?
- Do you want a lot of structure as to how to use your volunteer time?
- Is independence in delivering a certain result your cup of tea?
- How much time do you want to be involved?
- Are you looking to replace full-time work, or do you want to put a limit on the number of hours you are available to volunteer? (Once an organization finds a willing, competent resource, it may tap you more than you want to be tapped. This situation is preventable if you are clear from the outset with the organization about how much time and effort you are willing to give.)
Once you are clear about your intention, you’ll need to decide to which organization you would like to commit your time. Volunteer opportunities are endless. Seeking out options like Volunteer Match or taking a volunteer quiz can be helpful, but they can also be overwhelming. You might do better by first checking out opportunities at charities, schools, or churches in your hometown. Or start by visiting your local senior center, where the staff may be more tuned into local volunteer opportunities.
Don't forget that you always have the option to “invent” your own approach to volunteering. For one individual, “travelanthropy” (e.g., volunteering to serve as a guide or chaperone on a trip conducted by a local organization) combines a passion for travel with volunteering. For others, “fitnessanthropy” combines an orientation to fitness with events like walks for hunger, cancer, the heart association, and more.
Finally, if you are thinking about volunteering, put a bit of time into soul searching. Don't let anyone "guilt" you into volunteering or volunteer simply for the sake of volunteering. The "giving back" movement has been on the rise for a decade, and it's terrific, but there are other ways to give, including making financial donations to your favorite causes.