At Fairfield County-based VolunteerSquare.com, we talk to a lot of folks who are unsure how to get started volunteering on their own. But if you do some research, think about your interests and match them with an agency that needs you, we are positive volunteering can change your life.
Think about it. Not only are you helping your community, you are helping yourself. You could discover a passion for a talent you had only vaguely been interested in before. You could make amazing personal connections. And it can also lead you down a new career path.
We are always hearing inspiring stories from our partner agencies about how volunteering lifts them up and we know it can be just as beneficial to you as the agency you’re helping.
The key is finding the right fit. Consider these five basic tips from our own in-house volunteer pro, Michael Carusi, before you get started:
1. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
There tends to be a stereotype when it comes to volunteering and the type of help agencies need. People often see volunteering as consisting of tasks like stuffing envelopes, sorting files, or doing projects that are done in a day. While those are definitely tasks that need doing, many agencies have needs in other areas as well.
Volunteering is a big responsibility but it can also be a lot of fun—so think outside the box. Even at the volunteer level, most agencies have a sincere interest in making you a part of the team. STAR, Inc. in Norwalk, an agency that supports individuals and families affected by developmental disabilities, is looking for some help facilitating its recreational programs—so coaches, sports fans, music lovers take a look!
2. WEIGH YOUR ACADEMIC STRENGTHS
Whether you’re a student, young professional or retired executive, consider your scholastic talents. Whatever you’re talented in can have multiple applications in a volunteer setting. For example, several of our partner agencies are always looking for tutors, classroom volunteers, and instructors. Right now, the Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport needs adult tutors for their clients in math, reading and ESL. Norwalk-based Malta House is also looking for tutors for its clients.
3. BRING YOUR PROFESSIONAL SKILLS TO THE TABLE
Many nonprofit agencies need help with tasks that require a bit more professional experience. Right now Stamford-based Laurel House is seeking volunteer budget coaches to help their clients improve their personal financial management skills. New Canaan-based Kids Helping Kids needs public relations professionals who can give them some guidance on their community outreach.
4. BE REALISTIC ABOUT YOUR AVAILABILITY
Take one look at our Opportunities page and you’ll see that there’s a big cluster of nonprofits looking for volunteer support. We know you want to help an agency but before you reach out and apply, consider what the opportunity means for your schedule. Remember, many of these agencies rely solely on volunteers for some tasks so, please, keep that in mind before you commit.
If you have a flexible schedule during the day, perhaps a more long-term commitment like a classroom volunteer for Junior Achievement fits your schedule? Or, you could sign up for a food rescue with Norwalk-based Community Plates. If your time isn’t as flexible, consider helping out at a one-day event, like Norwalk-based CancerCare's 5K Walk/Run for Hope in Fairfield next month.
5. REACH OUT!
We can’t stress this one enough. If you want to learn more about the agency or if you just want to introduce yourself and learn more about the volunteer environment you’d be in, never be afraid to reach out.
We’ve heard a few stories of people thinking they’re bothering nonprofits by asking for a tour of their facility or an informational session, but nonprofits are generally ecstatic to hear from prospective volunteers. Even if an agency doesn’t have anything posted that matches your interests but you want to learn more, reach out! You have nothing to lose.
Keep these tips in mind and be sure to sign up for free at VolunteerSquare.com to receive customized e-alerts that will let you know—in real time—when an opportunity it posted that matches your particular skills and interests.