To volunteer is to work for free willingly. Volunteering is an opportunity to be altruistic; to dedicate your time and energy to a task for no personal financial or social gain.
There are countless ways to volunteer. You can connect with nonprofit organizations that address a particular cause, such as providing shelter for homeless individuals, ending racism, providing children with safe places to go after school, and supporting environmental conservation. These organizations operate solely on donations and rely on the help of volunteers to function as effectively as possible.
You can volunteer in a less official capacity as well. Perhaps you could help a neighbor in need or prepare a meal for someone who cannot cook for themselves. Whatever you decide to do, volunteering should actively benefit another person, cause, or group — and, hopefully, result in a sense of personal fulfillment.
Table of Contents
- 1 Giving Back to the Community
- 2 Ways to Volunteer
- 3 How to Start Volunteering
Giving Back to the Community
The idiom “giving back to the community” is a bit controversial: some individuals note that it implies something was “taken” first, making the act of volunteering more of a business transaction — especially an unethical one where “giving back” is glorified while the “taking” was nonconsensual. Others interpret the phrase to be metaphorical: as life provides you with privileges, it is ethical and dutiful as a member of society to “return the favor” by supporting people in need.
The action of giving back, however, is intended to be positive. The Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies notes that volunteerism is a critical renewable resource for addressing social and environmental problems around the world. Based on 37 studied countries, approximately 140 million people perform volunteer work every year, which equates to 20.8 million full-time jobs.
According to Nonprofits Source, the volunteer activities in the United States are:
- Food collection and distribution (24.2%);
- Selling physical goods to fundraise (23.9%);
- Transportation or general labor (18.8%);
- Teaching or tutoring (17.9%).
The top four areas volunteers participated in are:
- Religious (34.1%);
- Educational (26%);
- Social service (14.9%);
- Health organizations (7.3%).
AmeriCorps reports that 77.4 million Americans (30.3%) volunteered 6.9 billion collective hours in 2017. If the average value of a volunteer hour was $24.14 that year, the estimated value of overall volunteer service is approximately $167 billion.
Ways to Volunteer
While $167 billion may seem like a high amount, 30.3% of Americans is less than one-third of the population. The United States needs more volunteers. If you would like to know how to give back to your community, consider issues you are passionate about and where you are needed most. Here is a list of possible ways to volunteer:
Helping Your Elders and Family
If you wish to be of service, you don’t have to look far. Reach out to elder folks in your life and members of your family who may need help with daily tasks. You could cook a meal, do simple home repairs, mow their lawn, teach them personal and financial health, drive them to appointments, pick up their groceries, take them thrift store shopping, or assist with another activity they struggle to perform themselves.
Working With Schools and Education
Schools and other educational institutions are always happy to accept volunteers, especially underfunded ones. You could donate necessary physical items, like books and supplies, as well as make time to present something you are knowledgeable about, read stories out loud, chaperone field trips, clean up a school’s campus, or find other ways to be a role model to children and young adults.
Coach a Team
Many children love sports, but underpaid and overwhelmed teachers do not have time to coach teams. Even if you are not a parent, coaching a youth sports team is an excellent way to connect with children, teach them the value of exercise, cultivate their passions, encourage teamwork, and provide them with a safe place to go after school.
Work in a Food Kitchen
In 2017, 40 million people suffered from hunger in the U.S. Food kitchens provide sustenance to individuals and families who depend on stipends or otherwise struggle with food insecurity, so they are always in need of volunteers to donate goods and serve meals. You can solicit donations from your community year-round, including during the holidays.
Serve on a Community Board
One of the best ways to volunteer in your community is to join its local board. Community boards meet with city officials to discuss new proposals and policies, so you can use this volunteer position to amplify your community’s voice. It’s an effective way to help homeless people by addressing housing issues in your area.
Become a Docent
Are you passionate about education? Schools aren’t the only place you can turn to for sharing knowledge: institutions like museums and art galleries appreciate volunteer guides, known as docents, who lead visitors around and communicate information.
Organize an Environmental Clean Up
Fifty-one billion pieces of litter end up on U.S. roadways every year — and plenty of litter makes its way elsewhere — causing harm to the environment. Trash isn’t pleasing to look at, either, so consider organizing an environmental cleanup that beautifies your area, makes nature healthier, and promotes affordable ways to go green.
Volunteer at a Hospital or Senior Center
Hospital and senior center employees have a lot of work to do, so providing help around their facilities or spending time with patients and residents is beneficial for everyone involved. Not every senior citizen is ready to retire, either, so you can help connect them with low-stress employment opportunities so that both of you are feeling active.
Work at an Animal Rescue
Animal shelters regularly experience an influx of animals that need housing and care. Staff members are often overwhelmed and underpaid. You can donate your money and time to caring for animals that have nowhere else to go. Contribute to breaking the stigma around so-called “kill shelters” — these shelters are legally required to take every and any animal, so they are often forced to euthanize pets due to overpopulation. You can save animals’ lives by finding them homes and educating the public about the responsibilities of owning a pet.
How to Start Volunteering
Different volunteer positions may require different things from you. For instance, most states require background checks for anyone intending to volunteer with children. Depending on the work you will be doing, some organizations may request that you have prior experience and training before starting.
To get in touch with an organization to start volunteering, you will need to:
- Find the organization’s contact information on its website;
- Connect with a volunteer coordinator or other manager via phone or email;
- Ask what the requirements to volunteer are;
- Follow through with said requirements, if possible;
- Communicate dates and times you are available to work.
You may need a volunteer resume if the intended work requires training and education that the organization cannot provide. It may also be in your best interest to have reference letters attesting to your qualifications to perform in a particular role.
Willingly working for someone or something else’s benefit is an effective way to invest in your community’s future, and it can even improve your own health and social life. Research the best ways to give back to your community and volunteer today.
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