Why is finding the right volunteer opportunity important?

Not only does giving back to society provide you with a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment but it’s also good for your health and overall well-being.

In a 2013 study, UnitedHealth Group found that 76% of the people who volunteered at some point throughout the year felt physically healthier, 94% reported volunteering improves their mood, and 78% felt less stressed.

Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee conducted a study in 2006 and found that people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than people who didn’t, which indicated a direct physiological benefit to people who give back.

As a derivative of those studies, I’ve put together these five simple steps to help you find the right volunteer opportunity that’s unique to you.

STEP #1: Self Reflect

Understanding your skill set, your professional and personal experience, and also your limitations are key to deciding the type of volunteer opportunity you want to get involved in. Ask yourself:

  • What role do you want to have in your volunteer opportunity?
  • What skills do you have to offer?
  • Which past experiences would you like to recreate?
  • Which activities give you energy?

It can also be helpful to think of things you want to limit, such as:

  • What physical activities do you not want to do?
  • Where do you want to cap off your mental strenuousness?

Bonus Tip: Use this free Retirement Lifestyle Assessment to really uncover your true interests and passions.

STEP #2: Understand Your Commitment Level

Rather than starting off with the searching process and catering to the commitment and needs of the volunteer opportunity, it’s best to explicitly define your ideal commitment level.

Map out your schedule and physically create an ideal weekly calendar. Be sure to include your prior commitments and reserve time for leisure and other activities.

Once you have your time blocked off, you can avoid over-committing yourself to a volunteer opportunity by being very clear on how much time you want to assign to the giving back part of your life.

STEP #3: Be Clear How This Impacts Your Goals

You can be efficient with how you spend your time and create more meaningful experiences for yourself by aligning your activities with your overall goals and dreams.

How do you want volunteering to fit into your overall goals? What would you like to learn and gain from your experience?

Some examples include:

  • If health is a priority for you, consider volunteering at a fitness or health-related group.
  • If you’re after a certain mission or cause, giving back to an organization that aligns with your interests can be very fulfilling.
  • Interested in traveling and finding your next adventure? Consider giving back abroad.

STEP #4: Brainstorm from Your Learnings and Begin Your Research

Being clear on the type of volunteer opportunity you’re after is so important to finding something that suits you best. Once you figure that out, you can go ahead and do your research – not the other way around.

Rather than starting off by scouring the internet or researching volunteer opportunities that may sound good to you, when you research with intent the process will be much quicker, more intentional, and more likely to be a good fit for the long-term.

Jot down a list of all the organizations, types of places, and various causes that you’re interested in from your learnings in the first three steps. Simply brain-dumping after a good self-reflection session can be so illuminating.

You can put into more concrete terms the types of volunteer opportunities that sound appealing to you instead of just casting a wide net to see what sticks.

This is an effective way to be more intentional about choosing how you spend your volunteering time, and chances are you’ll find something that you’ll enjoy over a longer period.

Here are some categories to get you started:

  • Family, friends
  • Educational
  • Environmental
  • Sports
  • Underprivileged, needy, disaster relief
  • Cultural
  • Neighborhood
  • Elderly

Need ideas on where to look? I’ve put together a volunteer reference guide of 20 volunteer websites, plus descriptions, to help save you time in your research effort.

STEP #5: Interview the Organization and Do a Trial Run

You can treat it like a job interview to find out if the organization will be a right fit for you.

Ask questions about what’s required and expected of you. Find out more about how the organization is run and what the culture and priorities are like. Talk to other people who are involved at the organization, both paid team members and volunteers.

By testing out the volunteer opportunity you can find out first-hand whether or not it’s a good fit for you. Ask to set up a trial period and commit to the short term first to find out if the volunteer opportunity is really something you’ll enjoy.

With so many choices and options out there, it’s important to be very intentional about your hunt for the right volunteer opportunity. The key will be to align your volunteer efforts with your core values and true interests.

And then find something that energizes you. That’s where the magic happens.

Which of these steps are most helpful in finding your ideal volunteer opportunity? How will you incorporate into your life giving back to society? Please share in the comments below.

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