Being a volunteer is an amazing opportunity that provides you with a completely different perspective from what you may be used to. And in 2021, there is no shortage of volunteer opportunities all around us. We live in a time where many people need help, and ultimately depend on the work of local organizations and volunteers.
Throughout my life, I’ve volunteered at mostly local soup kitchens or community buildings that offered resources to homeless individuals (men, women and children). But the biggest volunteer initiative I’ve been apart of was when I had the chance to volunteer in Puerto Rico to help repair homes after Hurricane Maria hit. All in all, each of those experiences shaped and continue to shape who I am.
It forced me to find the things I was most passionate about, and do what I thought could potentially help. Sometimes its just the little things you can do to help someone else that really matters.
Volunteering is also a way to learn, and I mean really learn. You’re able to learn about new communities, cultures and different types of people. It doesn’t matter if you chose to volunteer locally or abroad in a distant country, volunteering is always an eye-opening experience. I promise you that!
If you’re going to volunteer, I think it’s important to realize your role in the situation. For the most part, you are a newbie in an environment where others are the experts. You may be alone and not have your usual relationships to depend on in certain situations. It’s just a reality for a lot of us volunteering in environments we are not used to or haven’t been exposed to much.
But that’s why it is so important to recognize the ways you can make an impact with volunteering. Every gesture or action doesn’t have to be huge, but it’s the little things that can drastically improve your volunteer experience. Throughout my years volunteering, I learned that there are a few steps to take to make the experience much more worthwhile.
I wanted to share what I’ve learned and provide you with 5 proactive ways you can make an impact during your time as a volunteer!
Check Your Privilege At The Door
Privilege. It’s something a lot of us have (while we may struggle admitting it), that is also not something to be ashamed of. By definition privilege is the special right or advantage that is given to someone. This may be subtle, as privilege also looks different for different people.
The point is whatever your privilege may be, you should check it at the door.
You can never expect others to have had every single experience that you have. So it’s really important to understand the differences that you may share with the group or people you are volunteering with. You don’t have to point it out, but knowing it is a huge step.
This will allow you to truly open up and see the experience for what it is, and not just in comparison to the life you’ve always known. It’s no shade or shame, but it can make your experience volunteering way more meaningful and impactful.
Go In With An Open Mind
Going into situations with an open mind will definitely lead to increased happiness (I heard this at least twice before so I’m going with it!). But seriously, not having expectations and letting things flow is an underrated skill.
But it is so important to develop this skill if you are to be an impactful volunteer. Going into volunteering with an open mind means taking things in stride. Again, depending on the volunteer opportunity you choose, there may be differences in the food, language, mannerisms, or even the practices of the people you are working with (this can happen locally and abroad FYI).
Be open to these kind of things and accept that it may not be for you or that you don’t understand something, but don’t let it negatively shape your experience. You can still have an amazing time volunteering no matter where you end up donating your time!
Show Up An Authentic Volunteer
Being a volunteer is a life-changing experience. And while you are donating your time or giving back to your community, you are also still doing something for you. You deserve to get the most out of your volunteer experience.
Yes, volunteering can be about service. But those you volunteer for or with, want to see the real you. Don’t hide it trying to keep up any facade or image of who you think they want you to be.
You should show up authentically when you volunteer. If your quirky, show your quirkiness. If you like to make jokes, keep them coming. But show up fully so you can give the best version of yourself and so everyone else can experience it.
Create New Relationships
Don’t be scared to make new friends, despite what Drake may say.
Volunteering is not all about making friends but it’s still something you can take advantage of! And I’m not saying you have to make someone your best friend, but be vocal and receptive to new people. Try to spend time getting to know them and let things flow naturally.
Maybe this is asking more information about the volunteer program or community is a way you can use to generate conversation. Ask questions and share experiences you’ve had as well that can connect you.
It sounds so simple but I know as adults it can get harder to create these new relationships. Don’t let this stop you from bonding with the really cool people you’ll meet as a volunteer.
Donate and/ or Fund-raise
Volunteering your time is a great first step when it comes to getting more involved with a community. It’s a truly selfless act and a great experience to step out of your comfort zone.
Another way you donate or make volunteering more impactful is to donate or fund-raise on behalf of the organization. I know this is not possible for everyone, but still can be a cool and fun way to drive more traction to your cause.
Most organizations will accept monetary donations, but some will have fundraising opportunities for you to take advantage of. This may look like selling certain products to raise money for the cause. This can really make your volunteer experience more impactful because can help provide more resources for the cause or organization. It’s also a great way to meet new people and find other individuals who share an interest with you.
I hope you take these tips as a way to not only get involved but truly create a memorable and impactful experience. While it is not an exhaustive list of everything you can do as a volunteer, it should hopefully give you some insight in how you can make it better for you and those you get to volunteer with.