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Volunteering The Right Way

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

If you’re reading this, it’s pretty likely that you’ve had some sort of experience with volunteering. You may have volunteered through your school, church, extracurricular activities, or even just for fun – volunteering opportunities are everywhere!

However, it’s important to distinguish between volunteering that truly helps those you are supporting and volunteering that actually creates a greater burden on those in need. In this week’s post, I’ll guide you through making that distinction and offer some examples of sustainable ways to get involved with volunteering locally, nationally, and internationally.

“The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves.” — Helen Keller

Why Is It Important to Volunteer?

Volunteering is undoubtedly important and common, especially within American society. While volunteer experiences can offer valuable experience and character development to supplement resumes and applications for schools and jobs, the outcomes of those on the receiving end of volunteer aid are often overlooked. In any volunteer engagement, it is important to make sure that the work you are doing is actually helpful and is the best way that you can help the population you are serving.

Try to find volunteer opportunities that utilize your personal skills and talents: if you’re really good at coding or graphic design, volunteer to help a charity or non-profit with their website; if you’re a great athlete, volunteer to host a training camp for kids in low-income neighborhoods; if you’re an amazing cook, host a food drive and prepare meals for the homeless – the opportunities are endless! Above all, make sure the work you are doing is not harming the population you intend to assist; you can’t be very helpful if someone has to go back and redo your work when you leave.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss

How Can I Find The Right Volunteer Opportunity?

Here are some general questions to ask yourself when considering whether a particular volunteering opportunity is the right fit for you:

  • Do you have the right skills?

  • Does the work you’ll be doing take opportunities or work away from the people you wish to help?

  • Could you do something else to better help the population you wish to help?

  • What do you stand to gain from the experience?

  • Why do you want to volunteer? What are your intentions?

What Are Some Ways I Can Volunteer?

I’ve also included some examples of ways that young adults can volunteer in sustainable and helpful ways. This is a general list that is applicable to most young adults, but you can also pursue the more specific opportunities that best suit your skillset and your interests to maximize the good that you can do for others.

If you choose to volunteer amidst the pandemic, be sure to follow all COVID-19 guidelines to protect yourself, your fellow volunteers, and those you are helping.

  • Local

    • Food banks

    • Animal shelters

    • Litter cleanup

  • National

    • Organize and execute a fundraiser for a community in need

    • Work for a non-profit organization or charity

    • Volunteer in emergency/disaster response & relief

  • International

    • Organize and execute a fundraiser for a community in need

    • Raise awareness for issues faced by vulnerable populations

    • Work for a non-profit organization or charity Volunteering looks different across different settings and contexts.

Volunteering Is For You, As Much As It Is For Others

It can be a very selfless and meaningful activity, but it can also contribute to systems of inequality. Regardless of your specific position, ensure that your work is not more burdensome than it is helpful and try to help in the best way that you can.

If these conditions are satisfied, not only will the experience be more beneficial to those you are serving, but it will also be more meaningful to you. Volunteering can be a great thing for both sides of the act, but it takes some extra thought to produce the best outcomes.


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