The way I see it, you’ve probably got many valuable life skill experiences behind you that you can share.
When I think about the spirit of volunteerism, I’m reminded of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and their long-term support for Habitat for Humanity International. When the Carters left the Whitehouse rather unexpectedly, they were determined to continue their work in the community and fight for social justice. Their involvement with Habitat has led to homebuilding projects worldwide.
Speaking from my professional experience as a veteran teacher, there is nothing more rewarding than teaching another individual. This is especially meaningful when you have personal knowledge to share. I like to think of volunteerism as an exchange. In that vein, these activities can provide a variety of benefits to you. In fact, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!
Edgar Bronfman, in his book The Third Act (G.P.Putnam’s Sons, 2002), describes the process as “giving back.” The subjects in his book indicated that volunteering expands horizons, bolsters personal growth, provides enormous self-satisfaction, increases your circle of acquaintances and support, and is just plain fun.
Do you enjoy working with people and look forward to helping others? Do you have the desire to keep on learning? If you answered yes to these questions, then it sounds to me as if you should be a volunteer.
It is important that you create some parameters for your work previous to seeking out volunteer opportunities. This will allow you to assess precisely what your needs are. Ultimately, you do want your volunteer experience to be successful.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself before beginning your search:
1. What are my interests and passions?
2. Would I rather work indoors or out?
3. Can I work on team?
4. How much time can I commit to?
5. Will I fulfill my responsibilities?
6. How far am I willing to travel?
7. Can I attend training?
8. Do I want to utilize my career skills?
Assessing a Volunteer Organization
After you’ve done some self-analysis in terms of your needs and goals, the next logical step would be to evaluate the organization that you are considering. What are its motives and methods, and how effective is it? Above all, is the organization meaningful to you?
Here are some suggestions as offered by the book Alternatives to the Peace Corps, edited by Jennifer Willsea:
• What is the political or religious affiliation or the organization?
• What is the organization’s mission statement?
• Who funds the organization? Are there political or religious affiliations?
• How does the organization choose its programs?
• Is the organization working with local or national governments?
• What sort of training and support can you expect?
Serviceleader.org suggests that when you shop for a volunteer position, it is recommended that you arrange to tour the agency. Get the organization’s brochure, and check out the web site. That will allow you get a personal feel for the program. Also, ask the agency specifically why they involve volunteers and how the volunteers help it work towards its mission. Explore any written volunteer job descriptions. Finally, be patient. Not every volunteer job is right for every volunteer. Allow yourself time to explore a variety of opportunities with various agencies.
Here are some outstanding organizations for you to consider. Most of these are non-profits. Remember: consider carefully what you would like to gain from this experience.
My wife and I have been volunteers or Heifer International for years. In fact, we volunteer for Heifer both in the Northeast and the Southwest.
What becomes most evident about Heifer is that their vision and the efforts of the volunteers really work. Their broad goal of “ending world hunger and caring for the earth” is crucial to the needs of the world population. With almost sixty years of history, Heifer has helped people obtain a sustainable source of food and income. Progress towards their goals is clearly visible.
Milk, eggs, and fresh vegetables now nourish millions of people, who were once hungry. Children who were previously unable to attend school are returning to the classrooms. And the best part is, these action are long-term.
A major tenet of Heifer’s approach is the community effort. Animal donations are considered living loans. Every family and community that receives assistance promises to repay his or her living loan by donating an offspring. So, generations of people see hope, health, and dignity for their future.
This organization is basically a comprehensive clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities. If you are interested in volunteering the site is a valuable tool to locate opportunities around the country and the world.
President Obama has been inspirational as an advocate for this agency. He has said that economic recovery for our country is as much about what we do for our communities as what the government does in Washington.
The site is managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service. This is the federal agency that improves lives, strengthens communities, and fosters civic engagement through service and volunteering. The corporation has four million Americans of all ages in service to their communities each year through their involvement in Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, VISTA, NCCC and the Learn and Serve America programs.
One of the best features of the serve.gov website is the “Share Your Story Link” which, allows volunteers to discuss their service experiences. After you’ve read some of the narrative you may very well be inspired.
Basically, the name says it all. It is a wonderful mechanism to bring people together. That is; nonprofits, volunteers, and even business leaders come together here to create a meaningful connection. So, their vision is fortified by community relationships and partnerships.
One of the most meaningful features of VolunteerMatch is the effort that they expend to make the volunteer experience positive. They really do support the volunteer. For example, at the time of this writing they were offering a “webinar” to educate volunteers about the training and screening tools that nonprofits use. This information helps to evaluate a potential volunteer organization to see if it is a good fit for you. It also helps the volunteer overcome any potential stumbling blocks.
It is offerings like this that leads to a high success rate for this organization. In fact, 84% of volunteers have indicated to VolunteerMatch that they make the process easier to locate opportunities of personal interest.
Needless to say, I cannot praise VolunteerMatch enough. And, apparently, others agree. In 2007, Time Magazine presented the site with an award as one of the Top Ten Web Sites of the year.
To give you an example of the resources available through the website search mechanism, I decided to seek out opportunities near the small town in Arizona where we have a second home. I came up with two hundred and fifty volunteer openings. When I expanded that to virtual volunteering only, the openings reach three thousand.
This nonprofit is dedicated to educating entrepreneurs, and promoting the formation, growth, and success of small business nationwide. The organization partners with the SBA. It offers mentoring advice free of charge along with online workshops.
Some of the past workshops have included the following topics:
• Targeting Your Market
• Creating a Competitive Advantage
• Conducting a Market Analysis
• Can You Afford to Start a Business?
• Developing a Business Plan
• Creating Your Cash Reserve
• Preparing a Cash Budget
SCORE’s eleven thousand volunteer counselors have more than six hundred business skills. The volunteers can be working or retired business owners, executives and corporate leaders who share their wisdom.
The website offers a mechanism to locate the SCORE office near you in an effort to facilitate the volunteer process.
If you have a passion to reinvent yourself during retirement, volunteerism can create a whole new world for you. Watch for my new book entitled “Volunteerism and Your Retirement Lifestyle.”
In the next article I will explore additional ways you can volunteer.