Want to Volunteer? Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

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Giving back does good, feels good, and is good for you. If you don't have the spare cash to donate to worthy causes, perhaps you have some extra time. Showing up to help out is a lot more fun than just writing a check anyway. But time is a precious resource, so before committing to a volunteer opportunity, do a little research. Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself that will help you choose a charitable venture that's worth your time.

What Do I Care About?

Maybe it's a no-brainer, but picking a cause you're passionate about is a critical part of the process. There are lot of causes out there, after all. Take a look at different charity categories, then try to gauge which feels most important to you. Maybe it's the environment, veterans, the homeless, disease research, animals, or one of the other million choices out there.

What Do I Want to Gain?

You can get a lot more out of volunteering than just the warm fuzzies. Be clear about what you're looking to get back from volunteering before diving into something. Do you want to learn a new skill? Fulfill a passion? Get closer to the people in your community? Strengthen your existing relationships by volunteering with friends? Work on your social skills? Feel connected to a particular cause? Gain new perspective?

If you have unique professional expertise, there are likely plenty of volunteer opportunities that could benefit from skills you already have. Want a complete departure from your day job? The beauty of volunteering is that you can help out in more ways than those that align with your resume. It affords a bit more freedom than the workforce. If you have a hobby or interest that you don't get to explore during your day job, perhaps you can feed that passion by volunteering. The good news is that whether you polish up your skills or learn new ones, volunteering could help boost your career. Bonus tip: Thinking of things you'd rather not do as a volunteer can help narrow your options.

How Much Time Do I Have?

According to a 2016 online survey conducted by State Farm, time constraints were the biggest barrier to volunteering: 18 percent of survey participants worried that volunteering would require too much time. And that's okay! According to ServiceLeader.org, you should be honest with yourself and with the organization you're considering about how available you truly are. It may be better to start with a limited number of hours of work and expand your schedule than promising more than you'll be able to maintain. If you don't have much time, consider volunteering at one-off events. In those instances, your commitment only lasts a single day.

It's also worth noting that volunteering can mean a lot of different things. In the State Farm survey, participants considered the standard example of serving meals at a soup kitchen to be volunteering, but they thought the same of less obvious opportunities: creating social content to raise awareness for a cause, fundraising for by participating in a walk/run, and assisting a neighbor with a household project all counted as volunteering. Expanding your own definition of volunteering can expand your options and help you find an opportunity to fit your schedule.

Who Would I Like to Work With?

This question applies twice, both to who you're helping and to who's working next to you. State Farm's survey found that 77 percent of people like to volunteer with people they know. If that's you, big group clean-ups or holiday efforts could be a good option. If it isn't, the rise in popularity of online volunteerism could be calling your name. Depending on how you volunteer, you may be spending a lot of time with those receiving your help. Do you want to help out with the elderly, children, teens, the homeless, or even animals? The options are many.

Where Do I Find Volunteer Opportunities Near Me?

The State Farm Neighborhood of Good® website is a helpful repository of nearby opportunities. Just enter the cause you care about along with your zip code, and it will show you a variety of volunteer options in your area that match your interests. Neighborhood of Good is an easy way to give back to your community by doing something you're passionate about. Hey, it could even help you discover a cause you never even considered in the first place.

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Written by Joanie Faletto January 12, 2018
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