I decided to include a few links for sites that will help you get involved, as well as some tips for volunteers and the organizations seeking volunteers.
- Leave your egos behind.This goes for incoming volunteers as well as for organizations in general. I’ve seen more non-profits fall apart due to power struggles. It’s amazingly difficult for humans to get along, I know. I struggle with that every damn day, with my marginal social skills! *laugh* Just remember, you are there for a cause–whether it’s for trees, bees, critters, the ocean–and that comes first. Don’t let your passion be swallowed up by petty power struggles, infighting, and backstabbing.
- Just because it’s volunteer work, doesn’t mean that you should be less-than-professional and responsible. Treat it just like a job and avoid gossiping and other socially based pitfalls. Honor your obligations, and if you don’t have the time or energy, be honest and communicate. Most organizations are so grateful to have help, they are willing to work with you to help you find your niche within the group. Volunteer organizations should be flexible enough to work around your schedule and personal skills. If they start treating you like an (unpaid) employee, and taking advantage of your willingness to help out, communicate with the powers that be.
- Having said that for #2, keep in mind that not all volunteer work is glamorous and exciting–protesting on the front lines, etc. Stuffing envelopes and cleaning out kennels is just as valuable as being a weekend warrior activist/protester. And, by your willingness to work hard and do anything and everything for the organization–well, that can have benefits you might not realize. It can lead to you discovering new career options, or even a job offer–one that pays REALLY WELL!
- Explore what you love and always wanted to try your hand at. Volunteering is a great way to scratch things off your bucket list! It’s okay that the volunteer experience be rewarding for you, as well. Helping you build a new skill set, explore different cultures, etc. If you start feeling like an unappreciated grunt, say so. Or, explore other volunteer groups till you find the place that really ignites your passion. Then you won’t mind washing out bird and animal poop all day long. There are so many organizations that need help: Arts & Music organizations, Theatres, Film Festivals, Kids’ organizations–the possibilities are endless.
- Watch for signs of burnout. Set limits and parameters. Volunteer work can be rewarding, but most humans are not candidates for sainthood–you can burn out on it, because much of it is very mentally and emotionally draining. I am still on sabbatical from animal rescue work because it got so overwhelming and intense. And, truthfully, there were probably some behind-the-scenes infighting/backstabbing stuff going on that I didn’t realize in my naivety, at the time.
- Want to volunteer, but need to earn money? Are you an ideas person? Consider contacting the organization to discuss a grant proposal that will include money for you, but also cover a project idea(s) that will help keep the organization dynamic or help them find a new way to engage the community, or maintain a presence within the local, or national, community.
- Don’t rule out internships! They can be a fun way to travel to new places! And you might be able to get a stipend/room and board.
Here’s some website links to help you find your perfect volunteer experience. Feel free to post up any more links in the comments below. Remember, collect experiences, not things!