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The team from Charity Navigator, the nation's largest independent charity evaluator and leading donor advocate, shares their thoughts on emerging nonprofit-sector issues and offers tips to better inform your intelligent giving decisions.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Your Summer Guide to Volunteering


There’s no better time to volunteer with a local organization than during the summer! For many of us, these months are a time to slow down and get outside to enjoy the warmer weather. Why not take advantage of the sunshine and a lighter schedule to help out a charity in your community that’s striving to make your neighborhood a healthier, more vibrant place.

Follow our quick and easy guide to get started finding the right volunteer opportunity for you today.

(Stuck at your desk this summer? You can still get involved--keep reading to learn more!)

Make a Plan

Most charities--especially small, local organizations--rely on volunteers to achieve their missions. Volunteers offer additional capacity to organizations that are often working with limited staff and financial resources. Extra sets of hands can mean that more meals can be delivered to hungry individuals, more homes can be built for families in need, more parks and miles of waterfront can be cleaned up for greater community enjoyment, and more animals can be given the care they deserve. 

Volunteers are most powerful when they are eager and committed, and when organizations have a plan and structure for how to use them effectively. At Charity Navigator, we advise volunteers, as well as the charities they work with, to start with a plan so that both get the most out of the experience. 

For volunteers, we recommend taking a few moments to ask yourself the following questions:
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What do I not enjoy doing?
  • How would I like to make my community a better place?
  • How much time can I commit to volunteering? And, when am I available?
  • Do I have any relevant or special skills to contribute?
Taking the time to answer these questions honestly will help you create a plan for finding the right volunteer opportunity--one that inspires you to get involved, uses your skills and abilities, and avoids the things you really don’t like.

For organizations, figure out what tasks and projects volunteers can help you with. Identify what skills, if any, volunteers will need to have to help out; if this is a one-time or long-term commitment; and how much time volunteers can expect to spend participating with your organization. Determine a point person for the project that will be responsible for finding, screening, and communicating with volunteers, as well as setting expectations, providing guidance, and making sure they have the instructions and resources they need to be successful.

Finding an Organization & Getting Started

Once you’ve figured out what you’d like to do and how much time you have to offer, look for an organization in your local area that is working on that cause or issue. Charity Navigator’s Advanced Search Tool is a great place to start! Community boards and social pages are other great places to look for ways to get involved. You can also use platforms like VolunteerMatch.org to find opportunities in your local area.

Next, reach out to the charity to learn more about their needs and current opportunities. Share any skills, experience, or interests you have that may be relevant to the work they do, and, most importantly, ask questions! Get a sense of what you’ll be doing before you get started so you have an idea of what to expect and how to prepare. 

Commit

As the summer winds down, kids go back to school, and life starts to get busy again, think about how you will continue your relationship with the organization you volunteered with. Perhaps the charity has volunteer opportunities you can participate in year-round. Or, if the end of summer means the end of free time, think about the other ways you can continue to support the charity-- like hosting a fundraiser or supply drive or making a recurring financial contribution.

Other Things to Consider…

Volunteering with your younger family members is a great way to instill philanthropic values in them at an early age. If you’re home with your children or grandchildren this summer, consider finding opportunities that will allow you to work together to make your community a better, brighter place. Kid-friendly opportunities might include visiting the elderly at a local nursing home, walking and comforting animals at the neighborhood animal shelter, or cleaning up a town park or riverfront for all to enjoy.

If you’re stuck at the office this summer, reach out to your company’s HR department to see if they have a volunteer program for employees. Many companies will offer their employees paid leave to volunteer with a local organization. Some even offer long-term volunteer opportunities with partner organizations. You may even inspire the organization to do a company-wide retreat that includes volunteering. This is a great way to get out of the office to do some good, while not compromising your paycheck!

Finally, volunteering is always more fun when you do it with someone. Whether it’s with your kids, your spouse, or a group of friends, find your crew and start doing good together! Make it a weekend activity and celebrate your hard work over drinks (or juice boxes) and dinner together. You’ll feel good knowing you’ve taken part in making a difference in your community.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer experience! Where did you volunteer and what made it so memorable?

For more tips on volunteering please check out our Guide to Volunteering.

Written by Ashley Post, Communications Manager at Charity Navigator.

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