Some of us started volunteering when our children entered school through the PTA or to help with our kids scout and sports activities, and some started volunteering because of deep interests in wanting to make an impact in the community, in church or for the environment. Regardless of where we volunteer or why, the two unifying themes most volunteers would use to describe their experience are probably the sheer satisfaction we feel when completing our volunteer work and the strong connections and friendships we build through volunteering.
When you’re thinking of getting started volunteering, consider the right kind of volunteer spot for you. Volunteering should feel like something other than work, so choose something with meaning to you. Animal lovers can help with adoption events or help with projects at animal shelters. Environmentally minded people might start a recycling program and help with tree planting in a local park. For those of us deeply affected by the economic downturn, volunteering is a huge stress reliever, and sometimes can be the key to creating the connections that will lead to the next paying gig.
Whatever you choose for your volunteering program, there is another critical piece of advice to follow: start small. Pick the shortest shift you can and do it no more than every 2 weeks. Gradually build up frequency and duration, but don’t let your volunteer activities overwhelm you. Sure, you may eventually find your volunteering passion so strong that it becomes like a welcome second job, but let your passion pull you there – start slowly to avoid burnout, and find the place – or places – that are your best fit and give you the most satisfaction.
Just like with friends, it often takes a while before we really get to know our volunteering situation; starting slowly will let us know that we’ve really bonded with the right volunteer spot and will help to avoid burnout and increase the joy and satisfaction we feel.