Community service has been a part of my entire life and I have always felt the importance of it, even when I didn’t know it yet. As a kid, I watched my family spend most of their free time volunteering in various ways, from local politics to the Lions Club, the fire department, building things for schools, running fundraisers…if it needed to be done and volunteers were required, the Baileys made it happen. In prep school, community service was right there in the school motto, and it was worked into our daily schedule. By the time I reached 18, I found myself instinctively seeking out areas and places to lend my skills whenever I could, and the first thing I would do when I moved, was to get involved (this is a great way to meet people in a new city too!). Today I’m coming off of a three day weekend of helping with the biggest event I am part of. So this seemed like the perfect time to chat about why we all need to get out there and volunteer more.
The obvious answer is that nonprofit organizations need you. They need manpower and extra hands and to pay for this labor would deplete the funds that they work so hard to raise.
It’s up to you what you want to do. As many people do have the time to volunteer, they should consider it. The not so obvious is that in volunteering, you are both contributing to and engaging in your community and everyone benefits from a tight community. If every US citizen stepped up to aid where help was needed in their towns and cities, this country would be a very different place. Think about that some more and then get involved!
Are there benefits of offering your time for free?
Yes! There are plenty of reasons besides the “feel good” and giving back aspects of philanthropy, which are huge, but if that was enough, everyone would already be doing it. If you are career-oriented, by getting involved you are having networking opportunities as well as great additions to your resume and LinkedIn profile. I do not always talk about what I do for a living when I am volunteering, but as there is often downtime at events, it comes up. On Friday, I was working with a man who helps small businesses set up systems (i.e. spreadsheets, financial, anything technological) and we chatted about business in between checking in cyclists. This also means we can also add “learn new things” to the list! As I mentioned above, if you are new to an area, it is a wonderful way to meet new people and put yourself out there. Now we’ll come full circle and remind ourselves of the importance of helping those who may need a hand and the karmic aspect of being the hand lender.
What types of volunteering opportunities are out there?
Countless. First, think of what you want to be involved in…what you’re passionate about, what areas you want to make sure get help. Then google some of these passions and your city and organizations and local chapters will pop up. Fill out the volunteer form (sometimes it takes a while to hear back) and go from there. There are so many areas where you can get involved. I enjoy being part of something with arts as well as something more social/health-related and I am an active alumnus for my prep school. I typically like to be part of three or so organizations as a regular participant and am currently looking to get involved with a veterans organization as well. Adam has worked with a dog rescue here in Austin and feeds the hungry once a week. Right here is a pretty good feel for the spectrum of areas to help in.
What do you do when you volunteer?
This is another countless ways to answer. Anything from playing with rescue dogs to making sandwiches to cleaning up a river to helping organize a race to visiting the elderly on and on and on. You can be as little or as hugely involved as you want to be. When you sign up, you let your skills be known and often will both be asked what you would prefer to do and guided towards tasks that seem fitting.
For example, Adam is a great people person, he is often the person put in charge of welcoming people to an event or engaging them in something. I on the other hand have served on various boards and had leadership positions in many organizations. Between that and owning a business, I am typically asked if I would help out in a leadership/organizing capacity as those are the skills that they find the most useful. Side note, when I began working with the National MS Society, I was asked by one of the staff if I would be involved in contacting legislators and being on the political side and I politely declined. I had no interest in that kind of involvement and they were ok with my answer. No one wants to waste your time or have you doing something that you are not comfortable doing or simply don’t want to do!
Other examples of things that can be done: For my alma mater, I basically try and stay in touch with other alumni in the area, and every year or so, I attempt to get us all in one place for a couple of hours. It’s a very small time commitment on my end, I’m basically emailing a few times a year and showing up for food. For an arts/business group I am in, I am part of their mentor program and have a mentee for 8 weeks at a time whom I skype with for one hour a week. If you are not a people person, there are also many tasks these days that you can do remotely and on a computer. Trust me, your skills no matter what they are will be appreciated!
What if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing?
I have already been involved in a handful of organizations here in Austin, serving on boards for a year here and being a chapter leader there. Unfortunately, not all groups were for the long haul. And that’s ok! One group was so new that it dissolved due to low participation and that was sad, but not really anyone fault, it happens. One group I found was not the right fit for the arts I was looking for and I left politely. That was ok too. When I was in high school I was volunteering at a mental health facility and a patient had a bit of a freak out on me. I was young, it was more than I could handle at the time and I didn’t want to go back. That was ok too. Volunteering is as much about you enjoying the time you donate as it for you helping the organization. Remember that there is a lid for every pot, and for every job that gives you the shudders, there are people that would love to help in that way!
How much time do you have to give?
There is such a range of what you can do and you can be involved in as little or as large of a capacity as you choose. Some months there is nothing really going on with anything I am involved in. This month has been an incredibly full month with the two of the organizations I volunteer with. It just happens that a lot is going on this month. For non-profits who are raising funds, the end of their fiscal year (June 30th) is approaching, so it’s the final push. It’s also a time of year when many races, walks, runs and rides occur as the weather is pleasant (especially here in Texas). When we get to November and December, everyone understands that it’s a crazy time of year, so there is very little going on. Last week I had a phone or face to face meeting every day for one of the two groups. Friends kept asking why I was volunteering so much and my answer after a bit of thought was: “I am of a certain age, with a certain income (meaning simply that I can afford to give some of my time) and do not have kids. I should be doing this.” That’s just my story though, you do what you can do!
Ready to get involved?
Head immediately to google while I have you all excited. Look up an area that you want to help (veterans, cancer, dog rescue, whatever you are interested in). Choose an organization and see if they have a local chapter in your area. Find the tab for volunteering/getting involved. Email that you want to help. Feel instantly amazing that you are getting involved.