Lend a Hand: 10 Things to Consider Before Volunteering
By: Marilyn Hawkins
OCF Donor and Owner, Hawkins & Company PR
If you’re like many of us OCF donors, you’ve had a reasonably successful life and career. Now perhaps you’re “of a certain age” and looking to direct more of your time and talent to some things you really care about.
Even if you’ve done plenty of board service and volunteer work in the past, the COVID-19 pandemic totally rearranged our calendars and clocks and many people I know have more time on their hands than ever before.
No question, nonprofit organizations (and other good causes) need high-quality volunteers, but let’s talk about the idea of fit. I’ve been a corporate communications consultant for decades and one of the best parts of my work is helping clients and friends evaluate where to apply their volunteer muscle.
Whether you’re considering volunteering with a nonprofit referred by a friend or colleague, or are researching organizations doing work in a field of interest to you, here are the questions I suggest you answer when you’re considering a specific volunteer gig. Maybe these can assist you to make the best decision on where to lend a hand.
- Do I fully understand – and support – the organization’s mission, vision and values? If not, am I willing to invest the time to get up to speed.
- Is there anyone in the group’s leadership or on its past/present board who I know, respect and trust? Can I get the straight scoop from that person about the organization, its current status and future prospects.
- What am I really good at? What are the three best tools in my personal toolkit that the group would find most beneficial?
- Conversely, are there any holes in my set of skills and interests? Often potential volunteers say they don’t want to raise money, but rarely does one person have to do that exclusively. Just be clear on where fundraising fits in the job description.
- Thinking back, what was my best volunteer role ever and what made it so? Was it the people, the cause, the success, the intellectual stimulation, (or the tote bags)? Look for key markers that can be replicated.
- Do I have a solid understanding of what the organization wants and needs from me, now and going forward? Can I set realistic boundaries and avoid “mission creep” if my work turns out to be especially valuable.
- Realistically, what kind of time — and bandwidth — do I have now and in the future? Once the pandemic subsides and we ease back into normality, might I get over-booked?
- What’s my current energy level? And do I want to do brain work, physical labor or both? People who spent much of their working lives at a keyboard sometimes want completely different challenges.
- What will I get out of this relationship? Of course, this shouldn’t be the first question to ponder, but the best volunteer engagements are always win-wins.
- Finally, do I know someone who might be a better fit than me? If you feel in your gut this opportunity isn’t right, try to help the group identify a strong candidate.
OCF can help you learn more about nonprofit organizations in your community so that you can inquire about volunteer opportunities with those that fit your interests. Search for nonprofits with the OCF Giving Navigator or contact your local OCF office to learn more.
Marilyn Hawkins, owner of Hawkins & Company PR in Ashland, is an active volunteer and OCF donor whose testamentary fund will support civic engagement, volunteerism, and preserving democracy. These days she’s cheerfully pursuing her “avocational career” in the wine industry and you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.