Though it may be especially visible during the holidays, community service is much more than a seasonal tradition. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 64.5 million people volunteered at least once between February 2011 and February 2012, with individuals spending an average of 50 hours volunteering during the year. Whether for a religious, educational, health care or social service organization, people of all ages find fulfillment in contributing their time and talent in service to others. Volunteering builds skills, relationships and communities while providing valuable perspective on the people and world around us.
Here are some things to consider if you are looking to bring your values to life through volunteering:
- What Issues or Causes Are You Most Passionate About?
Your volunteer experience can be especially fulfilling when you have a personal connection to the cause. Is there an organization that is important in your own life? Does someone you care about devote his or her energies to a particular issue? If you can tap into your passion or focus on values that are important to you, you may find a volunteer commitment you’ll enjoy for years to come.
- How Do You Want to Help?
What types of activities or events most interest you? What types of volunteer roles would you most enjoy in your volunteer time? You may have strong career experience that would be valued by an organization, or perhaps you prefer to focus on building skills in other areas. Be clear about what you’d like to gain from the experience, and communicate that to those in charge.
- What Kind of Commitment Can You Make?
Many volunteer opportunities—especially leadership roles—can involve financial commitment as well as time. Think ahead about what you are able and willing to do, and stick to your decision. It is much better to accept an assignment you know you can complete than to make commitments and be unable to follow through.
- How Can You Make the Biggest Impact?
As you look at options to get involved, consider where your contributions can have the most benefit. If you have a large circle of contacts, you might add the most value by using your voice and connections to encourage others to give. If your employer is committed to community service, you might be most helpful by recruiting coworkers to volunteer at a special event. Or you might make a bigger impact by donating funds that are increased by an employer’s matching contribution.
- Who Else Would Enjoy Participating?
Inviting others to volunteer with you is a fulfilling way to share meaningful experiences and learn about needs that you might not otherwise imagine. Many parents volunteer with their children to demonstrate how to make a meaningful difference by helping others. Even simple activities, such as donating to a food or clothing drive, are opportunities to teach children that some people don’t have the same advantages as they do. As they gain experience with charitable pursuits, talk about your options as a family and allow kids to participate in the decision about which causes to support.
- How Might You Narrow Your Focus?
Like charitable foundations that have many requests for limited funds, most people receive more charitable requests than would be possible with their available budget. Thinking strategically about your own values and priorities, and where you might want to focus, could help you decide where you can most effectively spend your time and resources for the best long-term result.
- What Legacy Do You Want to Leave?
Your involvement with a special cause can continue even after you are unable to volunteer if you choose to make a legacy gift. You can structure your will to leave assets to your favorite charity or use life insurance to make the donation. You could also create your own charitable succession plan by establishing a donor-advised fund at a local foundation and designating loved ones to decide how to distribute funds each year. A financial representative can help you design a financial plan that incorporates the legacy gift strategy that suits your needs.
Whatever your age or charitable interests, volunteering your time, talent and resources can bring meaning to your life and improve the lives of others. To learn more about volunteer opportunities in your local area, contact your local volunteer center, United Way or faith community.