Many Americans love to volunteer their time to a worthy cause. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 26.5 percent of Americans, about 64.5 million people, volunteered at least once last year. Frequently, charities and organizations operate with small staffs and budgets and would welcome you as a volunteer. By asking organizations the right questions, say the experts at the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), you’ll find a great fit for your interests, time, and skills.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Your goal is to know if a volunteer opportunity is the right one for you. Before committing, think about the following questions:
- What are my interests?
Maybe you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity that dovetails with your education, or perhaps there’s a cause near and dear to your heart. Decide where your interests lie to help narrow down your options.
- What are my skills?
Maybe you’re good at teaching or at gardening. Think about your strengths, and then seek out organizations that need your special skills.
- What do I want out of this experience?
Volunteering makes you feel good, but is there another way you might benefit? For example, helping someone learn to read may also help you down the road if you are considering a career in education. Many volunteer opportunities can help you boost your own skills while giving back to the community.
- How will I work volunteering into my schedule?
While you’re not a paid employee, people will be counting on you to show up and do a good job. Make sure you’re not over-committing yourself by taking on this new opportunity.
- Does location matter?
Consider if you prefer to be in an office, classroom, or outdoors.
How will I be affected by this experience? Some volunteer opportunities may take you to disaster areas or bring you into contact with people who have experienced some kind of crisis. Ask yourself if you are ready to handle these situations.
Questions to Ask the Organization
Once you’re ready to start talking to specific organizations, use the following questions to help develop a big-picture view of the organization and your role as a volunteer:
- How old is the organization? What is its mission?
- Who will volunteer projects benefit? What are the goals of the projects?
- How do you match volunteers to projects, both in terms of skills and interest?
- Do you need the skills and experience I can bring to the project?
- How is your organization funded?
- What is my volunteer position? What tasks will I be doing?
- Make sure the tasks are within your physical abilities.
- What kind of training and/or orientation will I receive?
- Are there any particular tools or project supplies I should bring with me?
- Are there any security or health concerns I should know about?
- What is the timeline for the volunteer project or position?
- How much of the work is performed by volunteers versus the organization’s employees?
- While volunteers are a vital part of many charities, there are times work should be performed, or at least supervised, by a paid employee. Ask what kinds of tasks you will be assigned and make sure you’re comfortable with what you’ll be doing.
- Is there a fee to volunteer?
Be wary if an organization asks you to pay them to volunteer.
- Is there an expectation of a financial commitment to the organization?
Some nonprofit organizations expect board members (and perhaps other volunteers) to make annual contributions.
- Are volunteers (especially board members) covered by appropriate liability insurance coverage?
You certainly don’t want to volunteer your time to an organization if there are any uninsured liability risks.
If you would like to get involved with an organization, but can’t make a long-term commitment, remember that even occasional efforts are appreciated. Donating blood, helping deliver meals, or reading to children at the library are all worthwhile activities you could do on an as-needed basis.
Before committing to an organization, do your homework. Learn as much as you can about the organization and its efforts. If it seems like the right place for you, take the first step and contact them.
Remember that not every volunteer program will be the right fit. While some people will seek the challenging environment of working in a disaster zone, others may feel more comfortable delivering flowers to hospital patients. It’s important to find the situation that matches your skills and interests.