Have you ever said one of these statements to yourself?
- Every time I’ve signed up to help, I ended up doing all the work myself.
- I’ve volunteered with unit activities, but I felt invisible the whole time.
- Any time I volunteer on base, I’m really bored.
- I want to give back to my community, but I don’t know how to get started.
Maybe one of these thoughts has run through your mind, or maybe it’s been a different thought entirely. Often, sincere desires to serve and give back can be impeded by obstacles to finding meaningful volunteer work.
Sadly, these obstacles can cause us to give up.
But giving up isn’t the answer. Changing our strategy is.
With a little preparation and a dash of strategic planning, you can find meaningful volunteer work that lets you contribute to your community, plugs you into a team who you value and respect, and gives you a true sense of purpose.
1. Tap into Your Passions
Volunteering isn’t going to be very meaningful if you don’t care much about the cause you’re serving. Instead of wasting your time volunteering for something that means little to you, sit down and make a list of everything you’re passionate about. Youth, animals, wounded service members, literacy, mental health, fitness, green living, the environment, faith…what else? Brainstorm everything.
If you think, “there’s not an ‘environment’ organization on base,” write down ‘environment’ anyway. When it comes time to find a cause to serve, you’ll either find a cause that aligns with your passion exactly, or you’ll surprise yourself by creating a way to serve that cause on your own. The point is, don’t create obstacles to inhibit your imagination.
When you are finished, put an asterisk next to the passions that you love the most.
2. Identify Your Skills
Now that you’ve brainstormed your passions, do the same thing with your skills. You do not need to be an expert at every skill you list. Many organizations and groups are perfectly fine with an amateur, and they’re more than willing to let you take extra time to practice and trouble-shoot. So, when you’re brainstorming your skills, list those that you’re good at, as well as those that you’d like to practice more.
Volunteering is an excellent opportunity to exercise the skills in which you want to gain more proficiency, with the goal of strengthening your resume. Many people do this in fields like graphic design, information technology and more. Keep this in mind as you brainstorm.
When you are finished, put an asterisk next to the skills that you want to use or practice the most as a volunteer.
3. Consider How You Work Best
If you hate working in big groups, then don’t volunteer with large group efforts. If you thrive around people, then don’t isolate yourself behind a desk. Volunteers make the biggest impact when they are well aligned with their work and environment.
Think outside the box, too. There are surely traditional volunteer opportunities on base or in your local community, such as at the youth center, Red Cross or Veterans Affairs, but there are also unconventional positions that need you. Virtual volunteering, also known as online volunteering, requires volunteers to complete work at their homes; all that you’d need is a phone and an Internet connection.
There are military-related charities that have virtual volunteering positions posted on VolunteerMatch right now. Your unit or other organizations on base might also have needs for more skilled or solo-type jobs.
4. Determine How Much Time You Can Give
When it comes to volunteering, it’s easy to slip down the Sympathy Slide and over-commit simply because you know the cause really needs help. But, as the metaphor suggests, over-committing is a slippery slope that’s hard to climb back up. Plus, it makes for a lousy volunteer experience. So, be realistic at the outset and look closely at your weekly and monthly schedule. Can you dedicate a day every week? A couple of hours every month? Perhaps you need something more flexible, which you can fit into your schedule when your time allows?
When you decide what time you have available, write this down and be up front with organizations and coordinators. It’s best that you’re both on the same page from the beginning.
5. Search for Volunteer Positions
Now that you’ve dedicated time to reflecting on who you want to serve, what you want to contribute, how you want to volunteer, when you have the time to give and where you want to give it, you are ready to find the position that’s suited for you.
Depending on your location, ask these people and places what volunteer opportunities are available in your unit or at your military installation:
- Air Force/Air National Guard: Your unit’s Key Spouse or your base’s Airman and Family Readiness Center.
- Army/Army National Guard: Your unit’s FRG leader or the Army Volunteer Corps coordinator, commonly located inside your installation’s Army Community Service building.
- Coast Guard: Your unit’s Ombudsman.
- Marines: Your unit’s FRO or FRA or your base’s Marine Corps Community Service office.
- Navy: Your unit’s Ombudsman or FRG leader or your base’s Fleet and Family Service Center.
If these places don’t yield the right results, check out www.volunteermatch.org, which has thousands of local and virtual volunteering opportunities, searchable by cause, location, age and more.
6. Make Sure Roles Are Clearly Defined
Some volunteers have had frustrating experiences in which organizations or volunteer coordinators didn’t provide a lot of guidelines or support. To avoid this, make sure volunteer descriptions are clearly defined. A well-written volunteer description should have the following:
- Duty title
- Location of work
- Job description
- Training description and requirements
- Application requirements, such as interviews, background screening, etc.
When you have narrowed down your search to a handful of appealing opportunities, begin the application process.
7. Go Make a Difference!
People volunteer largely because they want to make a difference, but they quit volunteering largely because it turned out to be a meaningless experience. Putting some thought and planning into your choice beforehand will go a long way in the end. You’ll be more likely to experience making a real difference in a community that you care about. And, you’ll probably make some good friends in the process.
What are you waiting for? It’s the season of giving – the best time to get started.
Follow this Handy “Giving Back” Checklist of 2017, and you’ll find just the right opportunity.
- Make a list of my passions. Asterisk (*) the ones that mean the most to me.
- Make a list of my skills, from amateur to expert. Asterisk (*) the ones that I most enjoy/I’m most interested in doing.
- I prefer to work _____________________ (on my own, in a small group, in a large group).
- Identify times in my schedule that I can commit to volunteering.
- Search for volunteer opportunities that align with my passions, skills, preferred work environment, and availability. Make a list of possibilities.
- Identify opportunities with clear job descriptions. Narrow down my list of possibilities.
- Contact, apply, and make a difference!