Volunteering is not just a way to give back to your local community, but also a brilliant way to learn new things and to meet other incredible people. It will give you the chance to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things while helping others in need.
But taking the step into volunteering may be daunting if you have never experienced it. You may have many questions or worries: what should I do? Which charity should I choose? How do I start? Here are some useful tips for getting into the rewarding world of volunteering.
Make Waves like the Butterfly
If you are put off volunteering, worrying that you won’t be able to have a big impact, think of the butterfly effect. The small butterfly is described as having an impact on the other side of the world with just a flutter of its wings; so could you if you take up volunteer work.
Large-scale change can only be achieved by the small actions of many people joining together to strive for it. Just because you can’t see the impact of your actions, it doesn’t mean someone else isn’t grateful for your time and efforts.
“I wanted to do something to contribute, even if it is just a drop in the ocean.” — Ricardo Coronel Lemus, InterNations Volunteer Group Consul, Paris
Choose a Focus
You may want to change the world but if you don’t know where you want to start, you are going to struggle. Most volunteers work with one or two particular organizations in order to feel a connection with their mission and to make sure they have time for their particular tasks.
When considering the plethora of non-profit organizations, you should think about where your passions lie. Do you want to improve the lives of refugees, help underprivileged children, or assist an animal shelter? Once you have decided this, your path to volunteering will be much smoother.
“My motivation is to raise the educational standards and to contribute to society by helping people that are living in the slum areas of Bangkok.” — Mink Leelapanyalert, InterNations Volunteer Group Consul, Bangkok
As well as focusing on a particular cause, it may also be beneficial to focus on particular activities or tasks within the NPO. While working on lots of different tasks may teach you many new skills, it could be hard to adjust between constantly changing responsibilities and may be mentally draining. Hone your skills and be the best help you can be for your chosen cause.
Use Your Money Wisely
This goes without saying, but if you are short on time and choose to donate to a charity rather than volunteer, then make sure the organization is legitimate and will make good use of your money. As mentioned above, it may be wise to focus on a specific cause in order to make sure you still have money in the bank to pay the bills!
Perhaps you have some spare time every now and then and would like to go the extra mile to help your charity of choice. Why not consider holding a fundraising event such as a charity dinner or a bake sale? This can be a good way to let your hair down and have some fun, while also helping out a deserving cause financially. You could also participate in a race or similar sports events and raise money on fundraising sites such as JustGiving, GoFundMe, or IndieGoGo.
Volunteering will inevitably make you feel better about yourself and, knowing that you are helping a good cause, you will want to do as much as possible for them. But make sure not to commit to too many hours before you have even begun.
It is better to start small and gradually increase your commitments when you know what you can handle than to start with many hours per week just to find that you can’t commit and drop out completely. Remember that non-profit organizations are grateful for all the help they receive and will not begrudge you being unable to commit to many hours per week.
“After starting to volunteer for five hours every Saturday afternoon alongside my full- time job, I realized the time commitment was too large. After a year, I unfortunately had to stop. It is a shame as I was very passionate about the cause.” — Margit Grobbel, InterNations, Content and Communications Team
Most Importantly: Have Fun
Volunteering offers many great opportunities besides the chance to support a good cause. Be sure to give yourself the opportunity to reap the benefits that should be gained from the experience. Working with new people who care about the same things as you will naturally help you to make good friends; see if anyone wants to go for a coffee after volunteering to get to know each other better.
“It is really special when I am at a Paris Volunteer Group activity; they surround me with like-minded people that enjoy helping others.” — Ricardo Coronel Lemus, InterNations Volunteer Group Consul, Paris
You can also learn a lot about your cause, and about yourself, from volunteering. Fellow volunteers with a variety of interests and careers can share a wealth of knowledge about many different aspects of life. Appreciate the chance to increase your knowledge and, most importantly, enjoy every minute!
If this has inspired you to get out and start volunteering, why not check out the InterNations Volunteer Program to see if there’s an opportunity you can start today? And if you are already a volunteer for a good cause, share your experience in our chat on Twitter today!
Stephanie Crosby is a student at the University of Bath, studying German, Italian, and European Studies. Currently on her year abroad, she has lived in Italy, appreciating the excellent local food and wine for six months, and is now living in Munich trying to learn to love beer and finding the time to travel to as many places as possible. She is currently an intern in the Content and Communications Team at InterNations, before returning to Bath to finish her degree.
(Image credit: 1)-4) iStockphoto 5) InterNations)