Monday, January 19, 2009

Volunteering Thoughts

As I mentioned in a comment a little while ago, I promised to offer some thoughts on volunteering. I claim no expertise and I think I came pretty late to the game, but there are a few things everyone should consider when considering where/when/what to volunteer.

1. Try a lot of things out - There are countless opportunities, try out a number before getting to wedded to any one organization.

2. Know what you want out of it - Yes, volunteering is about helping people, but if you're not enjoying it then you're going to be less helpful. Know what you want as much as what you don't want. Volunteering after work may be good, unless you're always beat after work, same goes for early morning volunteering. You might have issues with kids or with old folks. You may want to volunteer with a really talky group or you may just want to focus on the task at hand. I know I'm often most satisfied when I can quantify what I've done. Either we cooked 200 meals or we gleaned 5 tons of vegetables, etc.

3. Know your commitment - Some people like the regularity of volunteering every week or every other week, or the first Tuesday of every month. Some folks prefer irregular opportunities as time permits.

4. One offs are a mixed bag. As I said in the comment, I think one-offs (MLK Day, Servathon, X-Mas/Thanksgiving, Special Disaster related events) can be good but can be heavy on the speechifying and light on the volunteering. And while none of these things does any harm, some of them can be light on the actual benefit. That said, if it gets folks to volunteer more in general, I think it's an absolutely good thing.

5. Once you've sorted things out, stick with it. If you're a regular with an organization, you will absolutely be more helpful in general and likely you'll get a better sense of the big picture. You're going to learn a lot more in general from cooking meals every couple of weeks than from making PB&J sandwiches once a year. I'll be the first to admit that I've picked up plenty of kitchen basics from volunteering that I wouldn't know otherwise.

There are loads of charity clearing houses so I will just mention a few:
Greater DC Cares - http://www.dc-cares.org/ - This is a great source for numerous projects
Charity Navigator - http://www.charitynavigator.org/ - Provides loads of lists of charities and ranks them based on certain financial and accounting criteria.
DCJCC - http://www.washingtondcjcc.org/ - One of the centers of Jewish culture in the city and also a provider of many volunteer opportunities

2 comments:

Damo said...

What a fine young Gentleman you are, Max.

Just think, if everyone gave back to society like you suggest, socialism might not be breathing down our necks!

Jason Heat said...

This was a really great post. thank you, Max.