- Written by Janika LeMaitre -
You may ask why you should volunteer. My answer: Why not? Suppose you can improve your reputation through acts of service and being an outstanding citizen who cares about something other than yourself. In that case, you will add doing something good to your résumé and provide food for your soul.
Audrey Hepburn was an actress and became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. She believed – “As you grow older, you have two hands: One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
For many years I wanted to get involved with an organization that raised funds but never really knew how. Then, one day I was approached by a work colleague who happened to be on a committee for a gala that raised money for a cancer research facility. She asked if I’d like to join the committee and explained what would be involved. Of course, I said that I’d be honored.
People have inquired as to why I’m involved with charity work. My first answer is: This particular cause, raising money for cancer research, is close to my heart and has affected my family greatly. My second answer is because of the community and network. You can meet a lot of fascinating and influential people.
I’m also often asked what it takes to become involved with a charitable organization and how best to choose one that talks to you. So I've come up with a few pointers to help you get started.
Understanding the different ways you can volunteer is essential. Your skills are unique, and you will need to figure out what you have to offer. It takes the simple step of figuring out precisely what you’re willing to do.
There are many different types of volunteering activities you can get involved with, such as:
Join event committees
Donate monetary funds
Attend fundraising events
Host a fundraising event
I will not sugarcoat; when you volunteer for a gala, you must give a lot of your time or resources. It’s something you may want to observe for a year or two before diving right in. You can do this by attending any current events that this organization puts together. You will meet the people involved, watch the dynamics of the supporters, and decide if you like how they present themselves through their efforts.
In other cases, volunteering doesn’t have to be a huge commitment. For instance, you could help by handing out flyers for a day, baking cakes for a school bake sale, donating canned goods to the homeless shelter, etc. I have personally built websites and donated my skills and time that way. And for others, I donate money. For example, I recently helped with a virtual gala to benefit young underprivileged children by providing silent auction items donated from local businesses.
Years ago, I became a committee chair for a nonprofit startup organization for the Boston-based women’s charity Begin to Dream Again. I happily said yes! Women needing resources and shelter in my community is a cause I feel strongly about helping. Another cause I decided to focus my time and energy on centered around raising money and collecting clothing donations for a charitable foundation. I was so happy and proud to help donate toward building closets in lower-income schools around New England for children who could not afford to buy clothing.
What do you feel speaks to you and may fill you with pride if you could help build? What type of cause means the most to you?
Although my charitable work is focused on where I live, you might feel differently. Providing clean water in parts of Africa could be a passion of yours. Saving wildlife from extinction in South America could also be your calling. Some people are very much in tune with the arts or sciences and become supporters of these industries.
But how do you figure that out? If you’re still at a crossroads, here are eight questions that you can ask yourself to point you in the right direction:
What do you think people should not live without? (ie. food; clean water; clothing; shelter)
Is there a severe illness that may have affected someone close to you in your life? (E.g., rare diseases, known cancers, other unknown forms of cancer.)
Do you know someone who is already volunteering and supporting how they help their cause?
Is there a person who inspires you to take action by getting involved in a cause?
Does your workplace show support to a local charity and have a program where you can sign up?
Have you seen a volunteering notice on your coffee shop community board that has caught your attention?
Are you athletic and feel you could run a marathon or ride a bike for a marathon that supports a non-profit? (Ie. Hawaiian Ride For Youth charity event for youth suicide prevention in Western Australia and the Boston Marathon, in which riders support various charities.)
Is there something you genuinely love to do, such as traveling abroad and working with children who need further education?
A girlfriend reached out to our friend group, asking us to donate our time on a Saturday to help with building a new home for Habitat for Humanity. Separately, a neighbor of mine sent a card from the American Association of University Women based in Washington DC that got my attention, supporting and empowering women intending to break through gender barriers.
Should you want to donate your time but don’t have a lot to give, I suggest researching an international organization called Cares, for there may be a chapter in your area. A friend of mine volunteers periodically for different activities and finds this a great resource without much commitment.
Once you figure out what speaks to you, the following steps are easy.
Not all charitable causes are going to be a good match for you. Although, many charities have an online website where you can find out their application process I suggest asking people you know that may have experience with a particular cause. It can be an invaluable insight that you might not get with an online search quickly. For instance, I researched a mentor match program based in Boston to help underprivileged youth. After research, I uncovered a few reasons I felt it was not the right fit. You were responsible for donating X hours every week/month/year if you were accepted. You also needed to donate a specific dollar amount. A close friend warned me that this would require more time than I had and suggested that I think it through a little more before applying. In the end, I realized she was right.
Another tip: look at the organization’s financial statements to see exactly where the funds are going. Is it non-profit, or do they need 90% of donations to pay an entire staff?
You can find out by looking up online. If an organization has filed as a 501(c)(3), you’ll know a non-profit organization. Generally, the information is on their website, but you can also ask them by contacting their administrative contact if you are unsure.
If nothing is calling your name, consider joining a giving circle that takes a group approach to giving. My sister-in-law is in one with 100 other women. They get together four times a year for one hour and vote on which charitable organization will receive $100 from 100 Women. As a result, the nonprofit gets an impactful $10,000! Talk about the power of 100 Women Who Care.
You will be amazed by the good that people are doing in the world. Just know that you can also be one of those people.
When you figure out exactly how you can be of service, you’ll feel much more confident choosing the proper organization for you to support. Ensure you don’t restrict yourself and keep an open mind, for your beliefs may change over time. You might find that what you have to offer over the years can help different charitable organizations that need it.
About the author, Janika LeMaitre
Jan is a certified etiquette advisor, specializing in personal brand strategy. Her mission is to provide life-changing soft skills for business owners and industry trail-blazers to self-manage and evolve their reputation. Jan is certified with the Protocol School of Washington® and The British School of Excellence™. In addition, she is the board president of Women's Business Group Connects, and as a second-generation Rotarian, proudly serves as a board director at the Rotary Club of Weston & Wayland.
Download your complimentary copy of Jan's "Handling Gender-Neutral Pronouns With Style" quick guide here.