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How to Have a Meaningful Volunteer Experience

There are a lot of reasons to volunteer your time. You can make a positive contribution to your community, help people who need it and learn about yourself and how to serve with others. However, too many people volunteer for the sake of making themselves a more “competitive” applicant. A lot of hospital volunteers do so only because it seems like everyone else is doing it. If you are one of these people, I would like you to consider NOT volunteering.

Now, I have previously talked about why people shouldn’t volunteer. Overall, I still believe volunteering is one of the most positive and beneficial activities a person can do. To make the best of your volunteering, there are some factors you should take into consideration, to make it enjoyable and rewarding.

  1. Find something you Enjoy Doing – If you’re going to give away your time without any monetary reward, you might as well choose an activity you enjoy doing. By choosing something you like, you will be less likely to think of it as a burden. You won’t feel as if you are wasting your time helping others. For example, if you like working with kids, volunteer with Big Brothers and Sisters instead of at an old folks home. If you like teaching, tutor someone instead of being a fundraiser organizer.
  2. Put your strengths and skills to use – If you’re good at public speaking, find an activity that takes advantage of that. If you are musically inclined, consider volunteering with music programs for disadvantaged or sick people. By finding a volunteer position that uses the talents you already have, you will find yourself to have a much more important role. Everyone likes to feel useful and that their actions matter. Choose an activity where your talents can be fully appreciated.
  3. Make it Fit with your Schedule – Volunteering is the giving away of your time and talents. Make sure you only give away the time you want to. If your evenings are your most productive study times, you will do a big disservice to your school work if you choose to volunteer at that time. Consider whether you would prefer volunteering in a large chunk of time once a week or several sessions of shorter periods. The secret is to pick something that works for you and is less likely to disrupt your regular routine. The more it fits with your schedule, the more you will stay committed and enjoy it.
  4. Location, Location, Location – The distance to your volunteering position matters. You don’t want to commute an hour just for a one hour volunteer session. Likewise, if you don’t have a car, an accessible venue is a must. A place that is convenient will make your volunteering sustainable for the long run. If you volunteer near where your parents work, you could catch a ride back home if the timing is correct.
  5. Work with Good People – A good supervisor can make such a big difference. It is the difference between doing mundane menial tasks and exciting, rewarding roles. If the organization is full of volunteers who are not friendly and open, it can make you dread your placement. Another suggestion, volunteer with friends that you know you can work and get along with or take the chance to meet new people. Almost all volunteer jobs work in teams. You might as well work in a good one.
  6. Choose a position where you can learn and grow – There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a repetitive and boring job. Pick something where there are things to learn, challenges to overcome and small variations. Whether that’s something where you talk to different people every time or a job where you constantly with changing responsibilities, new challenges and situations will keep you thinking and motivated. Really take advantage of volunteering to understand something you didn’t know before and pick up new skills.

And if you don’t enjoy, or even dread, your current volunteer position. Don’t do it. If you’ve made a minimum commitment, finish the end of your term and then drop it. I once applied for a research volunteering role which sounded good on paper. I was interviewed and accepted over several other candidates. However, when I showed up for my first shift,  it turned out I was doing data entry and filing paperwork. After my first 3 hour session, I dropped it immediately and never felt better. The hours weren’t flexible, their was no communication with the supervisor, it was out of the way, a monkey had the skills to do the job, and I was simply not interested in office work.

I went on to run teaching sessions with ESL international students and I loved it. The job was challenging, interactive and fun. I enjoyed preparing and running each weekly session. I was even kind of sad when the sessions ended.

Volunteer for the right reasons. Volunteer only when it works for you. If you feel like your current position is a drag, consider the factors above and see if you can change any of them to fit you better. After all, if you are going to give up your time and energy, you might as well do it on your terms.

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  1. leafless
    leafless April 1, 2009

    You sound like my old college adviser. 🙂

  2. Joshua
    Joshua April 1, 2009

    This is a fantastic post and I agree with all of it.

    If I’m not enjoying something, I drop it at the first opportunity. You’re not going to do it well because you don’t care, and that hurts both yourself and the people you were trying to service.

  3. Anita
    Anita April 19, 2009

    This is great advice. I am really happy you shared this insight regarding this matter.

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