After decades of being a volunteer, and supervising volunteers, I have seen a lot of fantastic volunteers, and a few that just left me baffled. The ones that show up every week consistently and help with whatever needs to be done were awesome. The board members who jumped in and helped at events in so many ways. I’m currently volunteering on a political campaign and the staff are excited to see me every time I come in, and they always check in to find out when I’m coming back. That motivates me to keep helping.
How can you be a fantastic volunteer? Here are just a few ways:
Be willing to help with whatever is needed. Sometimes, I just needed someone who would get us caught up on data entry. I tried to come up with more creative projects for volunteers, or give them projects to pick between, but there were times stuff just needed to be done, and I appreciated those who were willing to do that. I always tried to emphasize why we were doing what we were doing, so they knew how it fit into the organization’s mission.
Spend some time thinking about why you want to volunteer, beyond just what cause you want to support. Are you looking for a social opportunity? Do you want to be more physically active? Do you enjoy teaching or tutoring others? Are you hoping to learn new skills? Really think through why you want to commit to helping an organization, because the stronger your motivation is, the more likely you are to stick with it. You may think you just want to make the world a better place, but that’s not enough. There are a million ways you can do that, so you need your core reason.
Also think about how you want to help. Do you enjoy chatting on the phone? Almost any organization could use you! Do you love writing handwritten notes to donors? Do you feel really comfortable with young children? Think also about what you really don’t like doing. Do you hate having to work outside in hot weather? Does cleaning up horse droppings sound gross? The more you consider, the better idea you will have of what you do want to do.
Find an organization that is a good fit for you. Everyone has different interests and different personalities, so what works for you might not work for someone else. Don’t make a long term commitment immediately. Get to know the people and the work first. And just like in any relationship, if it isn’t a good fit, let the organization know so they aren’t left hanging.
On the other hand, a great volunteer does make a long term commitment. I always told my volunteers that those who came in regularly would get the more interesting projects. A one time volunteer group is going to have to move mulch or some other important but less interesting task, because it isn’t worth it for me to train them to do more. But if I have someone who comes in every week and is willing to learn new skills, I will give her increasingly complex projects and more autonomy.
Of course, any great volunteer is someone who is positive, gets along well with others, and is dependable. Be a great team member and you’ll be treated well.
If you are in Lincoln, visit UNL’s Husker Civic Challenge, the central clearinghouse for all volunteer needs, open to anyone in the community. There you can peruse a wide variety of volunteer options and narrow down your interests.