Volunteering isn’t just for high school students who need stuff to put on their resumes. People of all ages can benefit from a volunteer job—and organizations need volunteers of all ages, skill sets, and experience levels.
But where should you start? After all, you’ll find countless volunteer opportunities out there.
The best volunteer gigs are the ones that resonate with you. They’ll put your existing skills to use, or teach you new skills you want to learn. They’ll involve topics you’re passionate about and put you in contact with amazing new people.
If you’re ready to start volunteering, it’s time to find the right opportunity for you. Here are some tips to help you land a volunteer gig that makes a positive difference not just in the world, but also in your own life.
Consider Your Skills and Interests
The best volunteer opportunities for you will interest and excite you. If showing up for your shifts feels like a chore, you probably won’t stick with it for long. So, seek out opportunities that involve interests you already have.
It’s also important to find opportunities that use your existing skills. If you don’t have some of the necessary skills already, you might find the volunteer job too daunting to commit to.
For example, if you love animals, volunteering to walk dogs at a local shelter might be a great fit for you. Or, if you have some teaching experience, you could volunteer to teach adult literacy classes. But if you don’t love animals, or aren’t comfortable standing in front of a class and teaching, those opportunities won’t be ideal.
Invest in Your Resume
Did you know you can use volunteer gigs to get future career opportunities?
Volunteer work looks great on a resume (yes, even for adults). If it involves skills or issues related to your chosen career path, even better.
Consider looking for volunteer work in your industry. For example, if you want to be a lawyer someday, you could volunteer for the ACLU. If you want to do marketing someday, you could find a nonprofit that needs marketing help.
You can also look for volunteer jobs that are in different industries, but that still teach you valuable skills. For example, you can gain customer service skills, communication skills, and many other skillsets from volunteer jobs, which you can then highlight on your resume.
Do Careful Research
Many organizations that sound like they should be helpful actually aren’t. Before you commit to volunteering, make sure to do some research on the organization to see if it’s as good as it claims to be.
Online searching is a good place to start. For example, you might be interested in an organization, only to find an online article about its managers’ misconduct. Your research will ensure you don’t align yourself with a questionable organization.
You might also want to talk to some of the people the organization works with, to discover what their experience has been like. For example, if you want to volunteer teaching English as a second language, talk to some former students from the program to find out how they felt about the classes. If they had issues with the structure or management, you might not want to volunteer there. But if they had great experiences, that’s a sign you’ve found a good place to commit to.
Be Realistic with Your Schedule
If a volunteer job requires ten hours a week, can you really offer that much time without burning out? Before you make a commitment to donate your time, take a close look at your schedule and determine how many hours per week or month you can devote.
It’s often best to start with a smaller number of hours and work up from there. When you first start volunteering, you’ll need to invest time and energy into learning the job. Once you’ve gotten the hang of things, it’ll be easier to ramp up your hours.
Avoid Long Commutes
Similarly, a great-sounding volunteer gig with a lengthy commute might not be so great. When calculating your available hours, make sure to factor in commute time. If you choose a volunteer job that’s easy to get to, you’ll be less likely to burn out and have to quit.
Prepare Yourself Emotionally
Some volunteer gigs are more emotionally taxing than others. Before you choose yours, make sure to prepare yourself for the level of emotional investment it might require.
Working with disadvantaged people, like victims of abuse or those experiencing homelessness, will be emotionally taxing in a way your regular job might not be. Working with animal shelters, environmental organizations, and other volunteer options can have similar effects.
It’s important to know how to set boundaries and do appropriate self-care, so you can stay committed to what you signed up for. Many organizations have resources to help you with these things, so don’t hesitate to ask.
Consider Online and In-Person Opportunities
When you think of volunteering, you probably think of things you can do in person. However, there’s a growing number of online volunteer jobs to explore, too.
For example, you could volunteer to do social media marketing for a nonprofit entirely from your home. These kinds of gigs are great ways to learn new skills that might help you in your career. They’re ideal if you don’t live close to many in-person opportunities, or if other factors like anxiety make it hard for you to volunteer in person.
Visit In-Person Organizations Before You Start
If you do decide to go the in-person route, visiting the site before signing up for the job can help you make sure it’s a good fit.
Some volunteer jobs will actually have you come in for an interview. But even if they don’t, ask if you can get a tour of the location, or even shadow someone doing the job you’d be doing. Make sure you enjoy not just the work you’ll be doing, but the overall environment and the people you’ll be working alongside.
Start with a Short-Term Project
Many organizations need volunteers for short-term jobs. This is a great way to get a feel for whether a certain organization or industry is a good fit for you. If you love it there, you can ask about long-term options once your short commitment is up. But if it didn’t work for you, you’ll easily be able to walk away from it without investing too much time.
If you have spare time to donate, volunteering is a great way to help yourself while helping others. It can offer a sense of accomplishment beyond what you get at your regular job. And it can even open up future doors by making your resume shine with interesting, valuable experience.
Take your time with the research process and use these tips to find the ideal opportunity for you. Then, get ready to enjoy all the rewards that volunteering has to offer!