To help celebrate National Volunteer Week this week, I asked a few of my way-smarter-than-me-volunteery-type-friends to help me help you if you’re new to volunteering or would like to get more out of it.
Tomorrow, we’ll flip the coin and share some advice for volunteer coordinators on how to enrich the experience for volunteers.
QUESTION: If someone wants to volunteer for the first time, where and how should she get started?
Mariann Berhlohr, Indiana Governor’s Office, OFBCI: Because our time is spread thin, it is important to spend it doing things that matter to us. Therefore, I would first ask, “what are you passionate about?” When talking to friends, what is that topic that gets your blood rising or causes the perma-smile? Once you have clarity on an area of focus there are lots of ways to get started. One of the easiest ways for volunteer newbies is to go to www.volunteermatch.org.
Jessica Macy, Boone County Council on Aging: There are tons of websites like www.volunteermatch.org but I would also encourage people to pick up the phone and call local agencies. You know where your passion is. You just have to match it to an organization and that often happens person to person. I would also recommend talking to friends. Find out what they have done and what they liked or didn’t like.
Gudrun Dunt, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Bloomington, IL: I encourage interested volunteers to come and talk to me so we can brainstorm together on where is the best place for their skills and interests. There is always the sign up in the bulletin, etc., but I have found this way far more valuable not only in building a relationship but affirming the individual and helping him/her to grow.
(Soon-to-be-awesome-Doctor) Karen Visovsky O’ Connor, Challenger Baseball League Volunteer Coordinator, Columbia, MO – If someone wants to begin volunteering, my first piece of advice is to find the right fit for you. When I first decided to find a volunteer opportunity in my community, I tried several different outlets and it took a few tries to find something that truly made me happy to be a part of. In order to get started I think it’s important to do a little research on the organization and talk to people who have volunteered there before. One mistake I made when I first started volunteering is that I signed up for too much too quickly and then felt a little overwhelmed balancing all of my responsibilities. But after a while you learn the balance and really enjoy your time volunteering!
QUESTION: That first time she’s volunteering, any advice for her to get the mostout of her experience?
Mariann Berhlohr, Indiana Governor’s Office, OFBCI: Come with an open mind and be willing to do things outside of your comfort zone. Growth most often happens when we are uncomfortable, therefore if you are given a task and your immediate thought is, “I am not doing that! What does this person expect? I am giving my time for free.” Then you could be missing an opportunity that enriches your life in ways you never thought.
Jessica Macy, Boone County Council on Aging: Just like first day of work, make sure she knows where to go, what time to show up, and what to wear. Ask lots of questions before you get there. Afterwards, let the organization know how it went. Sometimes volunteering is rocky at the beginning and sometimes it is a bad fit. You don’t have to make a lifetime commitment — if it isn’t working, cut bait! But let someone at the organization know you learned a great deal but would like to check out some other organizations. Also, take time to reflect about what you did and what difference you made. Don’t make volunteering one more thing to check off the list. It is a meaningful experience.
Karen Grindler, Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center: We tell our volunteers they will get back as much as they put into it. If you want to interact with the rider and encourage, support and get to know their skills, then as a volunteer you will not only make a friend but you can be a part of the progress and improvements!
Cassie Ukele, The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri: I think volunteers here have a great time giving back to their community. Volunteers will package bulk food into family sized units that will be distributed to our 32 county service area in central and northeast Missouri. Appreciating that volunteering at The Food Bank will help feed hungry people in our service area will provide an experience that no other volunteer opportunity will have.
Gudrun Dunt, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Bloomington, IL: The responsibility for a good experience really lies with the person/organization they are volunteering for. Expectations should be clearly layed out and the volunteer should know what is expected of them. I contact both before and after for feedback. People volunteer because they want to make a difference so asking a question like, “What was the best part of today?” gives them a chance to give feedback.
(Soon-to-be-awesome-Doctor) Karen Visovsky O’ Connor, Challenger Baseball League Volunteer Coordinator, Columbia, MO: In order to get the most out of volunteering I suggest asking yourselfwhy you are there and what your goals are. I think it’s important to keepan open mind about what you are doing and even on the first day it may notbe what you expected but over time you can shape your experience into whatyou want it to be and get the most out of it.
Thanks, way-smarter-than-me-volunteery-type-friends! We’ll talk with you again tomorrow.
How about you? Do you have anything you’d like to add? How can/should someone get started volunteering and then get the most out of it?