There are so many crazy things going on in the world right now – from natural to manmade disasters – you may be feeling a strong urge to step up and make a positive impact on our seemingly bleak current situation. Maybe Red Cross post-disaster work is calling your name. Or, perhaps mental illness awareness and prevention. Or equal rights.
But, how do you find a nonprofit that’s right for you? A place where both you and the nonprofit for which you’re volunteering gain value from the relationship.
Align with a Mission
The first thing you need to do is find a mission about which you feel passionate. For example, if you’ve witnessed a loved one battle cancer, you may want to find a cancer support charity that needs volunteers to drive patients to treatments or serve on its annual gala committee. If children are your calling, you could donate time to a mentor project or after-school program. And, for the animal lover, there are boundless opportunities to help shelters and other animal rescue organizations.
Find something that speaks to you. A lot of times, this will be driven by an issue with which you’ve had personal experience.
Find an Organization in Your Community
Now that you’ve zeroed in on your passion, it’s time to find an organization in your area that aligns with your mission. Word of mouth is the most common method for finding a local nonprofit. Talk with coworkers, an administrator or teacher at your neighborhood school, your doctor, or fellow parishioner or minister at your church. It’s always good to have a personal reference.
You could also reach out to an advocacy organization related to the mission in which you’re interested. A representative from the advocacy org could help identify nonprofits in your mission area, will know their volunteer needs, and should be able to help you screen them. Community organizations, like United Way, as well as government agencies (for example, your local health department) are also good resources for identifying nonprofits in your area.
Finally, there’s always the internet! You’ll find websites, such as Volunteer Match, on which you can enter your city and cause, and it provides you with a list of nonprofits that fit your search criteria. Even Yelp can help you find volunteer opportunities in your area.
Contact Your Nonprofit of Choice
It’s almost time to reach out to your chosen nonprofit. But first, thoroughly research the organization, so when you do meet with a representative, you’ll make good use of his or her time, as well as your own.
A suitable place to start is with the volunteer director. Smaller nonprofits may not have this role, so contact the development or fundraising director. Ask to meet with this person to discuss the role(s) you’re interested in. During the meeting, ask about any training requirements, the time commitment, whether there are any transportation requirements, and what the nonprofit’s overall expectations are of the role. Also, make sure to share what skills and strengths you have to offer and what you want out of the relationship. For you to succeed, both parties must have a very clear understanding of what success will look like.
Schedule Your First Activity
Dive into the volunteer waters! This is when and how you’ll really get a feel for the organization and what value you’re adding. There is a lot of attrition at this point. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s way better than just not following through on your original commitment. So, if you’re not liking your experience, have a conversation with your contact, and explain what’s not working for you and why. He or she may even be able to help you find another nonprofit that’s a better fit for you.
On the other hand, if you’re enjoying your experience, make sure to have an ongoing dialogue with the volunteer coordinator, so that your role at the nonprofit can continue to evolve and grow over time.