Volunteering can be a fulfilling, life-changing experience. But it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not a one-way street—you will get as much out of volunteering as you put into it.
But the question remains: how can you ensure your time spent volunteering will make a difference either in your personal or professional life? Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your volunteer experience.
#1 Do Your Homework on the Volunteering Opportunity
Do some research before signing up for the position or project. Find out what the organization does and what kind of people it serves by scanning its website and social media profiles. This will help you decide if it’s something you want to be involved with and whether or not it’s a good fit for your skills (or the skills you want to develop). Also, check in with the organization to see what kind of training they offer new volunteers and what their expectations are for your role.
If this is a professional association you are volunteering with, it is important to ensure you align with the mission and goals of that particular organization as there might be many within the same industry.
#2 Be Intentional About Volunteering
So, what makes an intentional volunteer? Someone who goes into their volunteer experience with specific goals in mind. For example, maybe your goal is to learn how to plan a 1,000-person event or manage a complex budget. Perhaps you want to grow your network or advance your career. Or maybe your goal is to learn about how nonprofits function so that you can start a nonprofit of your own someday. Whatever it may be, it’s important that you investigate the volunteer benefits before signing up as a volunteer or else the experience won’t be as rewarding for you.
#3 Ask (Lots of) Questions
If you’re looking for the most value from your volunteer experience, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.
When you first begin your volunteer opportunity, don’t be afraid to ask the organization’s staff or volunteers what they expect of you and how many hours they need you to commit. If they have a formal orientation process, attend it! It will help you get acclimated and ensure everyone is on the same page about expectations for how long you’ll be there and what exactly you’ll be doing.
If possible, ask about the organization’s history and mission statement so that you can fully understand why they exist and what their goals are. The more informed you are about what they’re striving for, the better equipped you’ll be to help them achieve those goals through your efforts as a volunteer.
Throughout your journey as a volunteer, continue to ask questions. Ask how you can make the greatest impact possible on the project or volunteer experience as a whole.
Finally, when it comes time for evaluations at the end of your volunteer experience, ask for constructive feedback assessment: what went well during your time with the organization? What could have gone better? What do you think other volunteers would benefit from knowing about this experience? Use these key learnings from your volunteer experience to serve other aspects of your life.
#4 Build Relationships
Volunteering is a great way to get involved in your community, but it can also be a great opportunity to connect with other volunteers. Try to connect with other volunteers online whether it be through social media or email. Set up virtual or in-person coffee chats with them to get to know them more informally. Who knows? The people you volunteer with could end up being lifelong friends!
As well, if you’re lucky enough to meet the board members or Executive Director of your organization while volunteering, utilize that opportunity! They’ll be able to tell you more about the organization and how you can help out in the future. They can also serve as excellent references for future employment opportunities.
#5 Take Advantage
Volunteering is a great way to meet like-minded people and get involved in your community. But did you know that many volunteer opportunities also offer events, training, and workshops?
Some organizations host events, such as end-of-day “happy hours”, conferences, annual galas, or celebrations, that allow volunteers to socialize with each other outside of their regular meetings. This can help foster a sense of community between the members who attend these events.
As well, organizations may offer training specific to the industry at hand whether it be learning how to support someone experiencing a mental health crisis or how to build houses for low-income families. This training can positively impact many people, even beyond your volunteer experience.
Workshops are another great way for volunteers to acquire soft skills that can be applied to their everyday lives. They can teach skills like public speaking or how to build your online presence.
So, there you have it: five tips to get the most out of volunteering.
The key is to set realistic goals for yourself then take advantage of any opportunities that come your way. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out!