When we volunteer, we generally have an idea of what we want to take away from the experience; often memories, new knowledge, or feeling good from doing good. Sometimes, we can get distracted or overwhelmed from meeting new people, going to a new place and trying new things. It’s easy to lose sight of why you’re there. Here is a quick guide of 6 things that we believe you should do to make the most out of your volunteering experience.
Match your skills to the volunteer opportunity: Make a list of all the things you do well, and share them with the volunteer coordinators that you contact. This will help them assign you to an opportunity that is a good fit for your skill set. Additionally, you won’t feel intimidated or put on the spot to try a new skill during your volunteer task, since you will only be doing things you enjoy and feel confident taking part in. For example, computer savvy people can help a non profit set up new computers or repair some damaged computers. If you have a side business dog walking, offer to walk dogs as a volunteer at your local shelter. If you’re a musician, volunteer to perform at a children’s hospital or nursing home.
Connect with the people around you: Starting new relationships are always a memorable experience for anyone! Meeting new people while volunteering can be life changing, whether bonding with your volunteer peers, or with those who you are helping, forming connections are special. You can do this not only in the form of words by speaking with people, but also through experience. Participate and interact with everyone around you. Ask sincere questions to get to know the people around you, and cultivate relationships with them. It is important to identify your gifts and give them to the community from the heart.
Take time for yourself: In order to contribute to the community, you must refresh, recharge and reflect. It is best to know your limits and make time for your personal health and development on all levels: body, mind, and spirit. Do not push yourself. When you volunteer, do what you know you can do. Every little bit is highly appreciated, so do not overwork yourself. It is also important to reflect upon what you have experienced. Depending on where you volunteer, you may encounter things that can be hard to take in, so reflecting on your experience can be a healthy way to understand and appreciate your experiences.
Be Passionate and Curious: Sometimes the idea of mentoring eighth graders may terrify you, or recycling might feel more like a tedious chore than contributing to a cause. Maybe sports just aren’t your thing. Picking up trash in a park could be the last thing you’d ever want to do. And that’s totally fine. When you're not passionate or interested in something, it shows, so you should look for volunteer opportunities that make you excited about getting out of bed at 7am on a Saturday. Additionally, look for ways to learn beyond your regular responsibilities. Passion shows not just in the work you’ve decided to take on but also in how you take part in the cause, with the people, and with the organization overall.
Ensure your expectations are realistic: It’s unlikely that you’ll feel like you’ve made much of an impact during a two-week or even two-month volunteer program, so it’s far better to look at your volunteer experience as an opportunity to learn new things and strengthen your current skill set, than as a chance to change the world overnight. It’s important to have a clear understanding of what the organization expects of before you arrive. Also, try to be open to tackling jobs that are less demanding or seemingly below your skill level rather than clinging to a preconceived idea of what you’ll be able to do and the impact you’ll have.
Document the Journey: We live in a time where we share everything, and sometimes that is a great thing. Volunteering is the perfect opportunity to share your experience with the rest of the world. Not to warrant a humble brag on Facebook, but to make others aware that these volunteering opportunities exist, and that they can be fun! Taking numerous pictures and videos of your experience, as well as journaling or blogging online, are all great way to remember your experience and journey.
Do you have a favorite memory about volunteering? Share in the comments below!