At Brandless, we believe doing is what matters, so volunteering is part of our DNA. In fact, we host monthly volunteer days for our teams in San Francisco and Minneapolis. If you’re not fortunate enough to have volunteering incorporated into your job, we’ve got some tips for making it easy to get started on your own (or with friends). Here’s what experts, organizers, and volunteers have to say about giving back to your community, no matter how much time you have, and in some cases without even leaving your couch.
Alex Johnson, the director of Community Involvement and Service at Missouri State University, says that “the more committed someone is to a cause and to an agency, the more effective they will be in making positive changes.” Make a list of the three issues that matter most to you in your community and in the world.
Johnson says that the best volunteer is a volunteer who knows what their friends and neighbors need — sometimes the most important work happens right in our own backyard! “The more someone knows about the root of a social issue, and how it applies in the context of their community, the better.” If you need to, do a little research on the issues that impact your local area by talking to friends and neighbors, and even reading the newspaper.
Be realistic: how much time can you really contribute? If you’re going to struggle to show up on a consistent basis, it’s much better for the organization for you to do something small from time to time, rather than commit to a schedule and have to scale back later. Look at your calendar and be realistic, and think of your volunteer time as something you will need to put first during the time you allot for it.
Once you’ve picked your cause, think about big holidays and special events: could you do a few hours at a soup kitchen on Christmas? Could you rope in family and friends to accompany you, so that it’s a group activity on a special day? Ask the organization if they have a fundraiser or party that needs an extra pair of hands for the night — you can collect tickets, work coat check, or help clean up after the event.
Remember, too, that some of the most significant contributions can come from your desk or couch. Carrie Aulenbacher, a writer based in Pennsylvania, recommends signing up to be a pen pal to an inmate. “One stamp can make a world of difference,” she says, “and having someone to write to once or twice a month can be a great encouragement.” She uses Evangel Prison Ministries, and there’s also WriteAPrisoner.com.
Robyn L. Coburn, a career coach, recently started volunteering for a non-profit organization in her neighborhood, helping homeless people find employment. It’s the perfect fit for her, based on her full-time job: Coburn writes resumésand coaches clients on finding work, which is exactly the kind of service this non-profit provides. “For me, this is the very best kind of volunteer opportunity,” she explains, describing the ideal circumstance for a successful volunteer relationship. “I feel like I gain more from participating than I give to others. It’s a gift to be allowed to be part of the organization.”