Volunteering helps your community. But it will also help you.
Katsiaryna Kashtalyan Shutterstock
California’s COVID-19 state of emergency is officially over, the torrential rains of 2023 have peaked (we hope), and people are starting to connect in person again. Things are looking up just in time for National Volunteer Week, an annual celebration of community service first proclaimed by President Richard M. Nixon in 1974. This year’s observance runs April 16-22, and it’s part of Global Volunteer Month.
If you’ve been thinking about volunteering, consider this a push to shake off old patterns and do something to help your community. There are hundreds of nonprofits in your community that could use some one-time or ongoing support. You could also search for online volunteer opportunities if you’re still COVID-shy or you want to try something that isn’t offered in your community.
If you have kids, getting them involved in volunteering as they enter their teenage years will teach them important life lessons about community service and allow them to test out things they might be interested in pursuing as a career.
Whatever you decide to do, we’ll help you get motivated to make this life-changing decision and point you to some great resources to get started.
Why Should You Volunteer?
Volunteers truly make a difference to whatever organization you lend your time to. They help get things done, especially with events, board service, fundraising and spreading the word about the organization. The estimated value of a volunteer's time in California is $26.87 per hour based on the Corporation for National & Community Service, which represents a huge savings for nonprofits that often struggle to make ends meet. And you’ll receive many benefits in return.
How Can You Get Started?
It’s best to think about what you might want to do and the reasons why before you start approaching organizations. A successful volunteer experience is founded on a good match for your personality and interests. Having answers to these questions will help you narrow down your search.
What Resources Should I Look Into?
Now that you’ve narrowed down your interests based on the questions above, you’re ready to find your match. You may want to identify two or three specific organizations and compare them against your goals and availability.
If you don’t have an organization in mind already, California Local lists a wide array of community groups, listed by category. Find the Sacramento County groups here, but you can get similar listings in each of the counties under the About the County pulldown menu. These listings include diret links to volunteer and/or donate.
Other informational resources can be found at GreatNonprofits.org or CharityNavigator.org, which offer search functions to find nonprofits that fit your criteria. They’re great resources for doing due diligence on the nonprofit itself to learn how wisely it spends its resources and what “rating” it earns. Great Nonprofits also allows you to search based on your location.
Another resource for exploring nonprofits is California Volunteers, an official office of the governor that connects nonprofits to potential volunteers via the VolunteerMatch search engine, which includes in-person and virtual-only positions. The site gets bonus points for inspiring action beyond volunteering as well with tips on how you can get involved in advocacy work on behalf of any cause you support.
Once you’ve identified a couple of candidates, spend some time studying their websites, specifically their volunteer opportunities and their mission statements and values to make sure it all aligns with your interests. Check out their social media presence and see what others are saying about the group and what messages they’re sharing. Social media will give you a good sense of an organization’s personality and standing in their community, particularly if you see a lot of engagement with constituents.
And now that you’ve done your due diligence, you’re ready to reach out and offer your services. Contact the organization and let them know what you’re interested in and ask what their vetting process is like. You should both be interviewing each other to see if it’s a good fit. And remember to start small with a modest time commitment so you can see how you like it before fully committing all your free time. Chances are they’ll ask more from you if they like your work and you can decide then how much time to give them.
And most importantly, have fun, ask questions, be proactive, and step back when you should. If you’re happy with your new volunteer gig, tell your friends all about it on social media and create a birthday fundraiser for them or ask for even more volunteers. Volunteering is more fun when you're doing it with friends, and the nonprofit will love you for it.
Best of luck in your new endeavor!