How to Make the Most of Your Volunteer Time

If you lead a busy work life yet are passionate about philanthropy, as I am, then you know how precious your volunteer time is. Or, if you’re thinking about volunteering for the first time, then you should know that, if you allow it, your time spent volunteering can be an incredible and fulfilling experience. Volunteering may feel like work, because in most cases, that’s exactly what it is: unpaid labor. You are offering your time and labor, and expecting nothing in return. However, that is what makes volunteering so beautiful- the human capacity and desire to help others, without expecting anything in return.

Volunteering should be something you enjoy doing because you want to help others and open yourself to new experiences and levels of awareness. It shouldn’t feel like work. Here are some things to keep in mind to make sure you’re getting the most out of your volunteer time.

Find a cause you’re passionate about

The most important thing, when it comes to making the most of your volunteer time, is to make sure you get behind a cause you really care about and it is something that you enjoy doing. If you love working with children, then look into charities where you can interact with them, such as daycares, summer camps, hospitals, or a mentor program like Big Brother, Big Sisters. If you support women’s rights, animals, homelessness, world poverty, civil rights, LGBT, whatever social justice issue it may be, focus your search on that cause. If you’re not sure where your passion lies, the only way you can find out is by volunteering with several organizations and finding the right fit for you. It’s easy to get involved with volunteering on days dedicated to service, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day or International Women’s Day. There are also plenty of resources online to help connect you with a cause you care about in your area, such as

Evaluate your skills

Many nonprofits are in need of skilled workers, so think of where your experience lays and what you’re good at, and find where your skills could be of use. You could even start a volunteer group at work where a group of you can come together and offer your expertise.

Come with an open and curious mind

Volunteering can feel a little intimidating at first. You may be immersing yourself into a situation or socioeconomic group you’re unfamiliar with. You don’t want to come off as condescending or privileged when offering your services to those less fortunate than yourself. The best thing you can do with a new experience is to simply come with an open and curious mind. Come without any expectations, and be willing to test your beliefs. You may find that you can connect with, and even become friends with, someone from a completely different background than you. Surpass judgement and let preconceptions and stereotypes fall the the wayside.

Make it a part of your schedule

To get the most out of your volunteer time, you’ll need to actually make time for it in your schedule. Instead of making it a one-time, one-and-done thing, make volunteering a part of your regular schedule. We’re all busy; it’s a national pandemic, according to a New York Times article. No matter how busy you are, though, volunteering will be so much more meaningful if you’re able to allot a certain amount of time to it each week or month. There are other ways you can offer your service as well, that make it easier to fit into your lifestyle. Sites like Skills for Change and Catchafire work with nonprofits to match volunteers based on their professional skills. Your place of employment may have an employee volunteer program or, if not, perhaps you may be able to help build a philanthropic culture at work.

Build relationships

Volunteering connects you with new people, both other volunteers and the people you are serving. When you’re new to the organization, find a mentor that can teach you the ropes; then, after you’ve picked up some experience, you can serve as a mentor to someone else. You may even make new friends.