As we settle into a new year, it’s a good time to rethink our priorities — to assess what activities have been wasting our time, and what new habits we want to commit ourselves to.
It’s also a great chance to give back to our communities in meaningful ways. Maybe that means volunteering at a shelter for those experiencing homelessness, delivering gifts, or doing other hands-on work.
That work is fantastic: it’s needed, it puts our bodies to use, and it brings with it a sense of accomplishment. But it’s not the only way we can help our communities — and if you haven’t gotten the chance to help out much since that high school mission trip, you might be missing out.
If you are ready to explore serving your community or an important cause, consider the unique, valuable ways you can leverage your particular skills as a volunteer.
Start with your resume.
As a young professional, you’ve got some enviable skills — and those talents aren’t something just anyone can manage, either. Think about the same talents you boast about in a resume or job interview — bringing those to a volunteer opportunity can be a great way to give an extra boost to an organization without much budget power.
These skills don’t have to be something really special or niche; any business or creative skill that you’ve developed is often one a nonprofit needs — but can’t always afford to pay for. Think about how you can give of your time by working on social media, reviewing budgets, designing programs, or taking photos. You’ll get some extra practice, and they’ll be grateful.
Elizabeth Roe, development coordinator for the ALS Association’s St. Louis Regional Chapter, says skills like these can be useful in partnering with an organization for something like an event committee. “We have volunteers that work on event logistics, solicitation, brainstorming, data entering, etc.,” she explained. “One of my specific goals is to find what tasks interest volunteers, and find a way for them to assist with events outside of just volunteering day-of. This helps with sparking creative ideas that staff may not have thought of, and helps provide an outside perspective.”
Don’t be afraid to ask.
It can be fairly simple to find opportunities to volunteer in very “traditional” roles, but an organization might not think to ask for something specialized that requires a particular skill. Make a list of your favorite issues or causes that really matter to you, and find organizations in your area that tackle those topics. Reach out to their volunteer coordinator, development director, or someone else whose information you can easily find.
Because you’re hoping to share a more particular skill, it’s important to let this new partner know what you’ve got. Provide samples of previous work, a resume, or an explanation of the work you’re willing to do for them. Be specific and set clear boundaries. If you’ve got a full-time job and can only help out a few hours a week, let them know. If you need help or support in getting supplies or goods to do what you need to do, ask (with realistic, reasonable expectations in mind). Even though this isn’t a paid position, it’s still a professional space and you need to treat it that way.
And you don’t even have to know what it is specifically you want to do right away. Roe suggests reaching out to an organization and sharing your interest with them, working as a team to find the right fit for you. “Most organizations love dedicated volunteers and will work to find a specific aspect of volunteering that’s a good fit for your interests,” she said.
Give financially, if you can.
A final note that’s less skill-specific but important for young professionals looking to give: if you’re in a financially stable position (and maybe even lucky enough to be working through this pandemic and perhaps saving money you’d be using to go out with friends), consider giving financially to your favorite causes or organizations. Particularly this year, when you can’t be as physically involved, giving financially can be a way of maintaining your commitment to the cause.
There’s something special about giving of yourself to a cause: it’s concrete, and makes you feel accomplished. For that reason, giving financially can sometimes feel like a let-down, or less like you’re making a connection. But offering money gives the dignity of choice to the people helping that cause, and often even to the people you’re trying to help directly. This is particularly important in a year where nonprofits’ budgets have been down due to canceled fundraising events.
Whether you’re giving of your extra funds, providing a specific talent, or sharing your expertise, finding a special way to give back is a great way to give of yourself and make a difference in your community. Roe encourages volunteers to “be open to new experiences” because you never know what something will be like until you’ve experienced it. Find your niche, share your skills, and make an impact.