Volunteering: Choosing the Right Fit for You
Search for the charity that best fits you and is the most excellent organization to be associated with.
Choosing the right charity to volunteer with is as important as choosing the right career path for your life. You volunteer to help others, but if you are not being fulfilled by the experience your interest will wane, and you will not stay with the organization for long. Before committing to an organization, write down a list of three causes you are interested in. Allow yourself time to consider each charity and what it provides to the people it serves. Once you decide which cause you are most passionate about, you can start seeking organizations close to you that provide the service.
Here, are a few things to consider when choosing a nonprofit to work with:
1. Is this cause represented by an organization in my community? Gas prices today are forcing people to cut back on driving, even when it comes to volunteering. If the organization you are considering is out of town or several miles from where you live, you will end up not giving much time to the cause. Plus you do not want volunteering to cause a financial hardship by spending too much on gas.
2. Are there multiple organizations that serve the cause you are most interested in? If this is the case, visit each site and volunteer for one day or at an event to decide which nonprofit better aligns with your work ethic, values and beliefs. A strong nonprofit will be totally transparent and will welcome someone “checking them out.” If they do not, move on. A nonprofit, that is not totally transparent is not an organization you want to associate with.
3. Always inquire how an organization recognizes its donors and volunteers. Does the staff turn around a letter of recognition within 48 hours of a donation? Are thank you notes to volunteers a standard after each event? Is there a yearly recognition for all volunteers and donors? A nonprofit that does not take time to thank their donors and volunteers is not an organization worth giving time to. A nonprofit is only as strong as its donors and volunteers; saying thank you should be a top priority.
4. How are employees of the nonprofit treated by management? As you give your one day of volunteering before making your final decision, pay attention to how the organization’s leadership manage employees. Are the employees treated with respect and valued for their education, experience and professional character? Or does the boss rule the work place with an out of date management style that demean and belittle the accomplishments of qualified staff? How qualified are the staff and its leadership? Experience and education of the staff should be considered when aligning with an organization. You want to be associated with competent people leading the cause you are supporting.
5. Is the organization fiscally sound? Nonprofits, by law, should be transparent. Especially those receiving state or federal funds. Nonprofits are required to provide the income tax form 990 to anyone upon requests. I suggest you do this to make sure the organization is fiscally responsible and is implementing the industry standard of 80/20-which means 80 percent of donations should go directly to the services provided, and 20 percent goes to operation costs.
6. You need to assess your abilities and interests and match the volunteer work accordingly. There are many different type of volunteer work to be preformed from working in community gardens, reading to children at school, staffing a fundraising table at the mall during the holiday; the opportunities are endless. You have to decide what you are able to do physically, mentally and with time constraints. You may not be able to move tables, but you can help with ticket sales. You may want to decorate instead of handling money transactions. After choosing the right organization, choosing the right work is the key to longevity in volunteering.
The following sites will help in the search for the best nonprofit for you.
- Charity Navigator - Japan Earthquake and Tsunami: How To Help
Charity Navigator, America's largest independent charity evaluator, provides free financial evaluations of America's charities. We are the individual donor's first source for unbiased news and information on philanthropy, nonprofit organizations, wis
- GuideStar nonprofit reports and Forms 990 for donors, grantmakers and businesses
Donors, grantmakers, and businesses can all benefit from GuideStar's nonprofit reports. Search our database of more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized nonprofit organizations.
The guideline provided may seem a bit extensive for just a few hours of volunteering per week or month, but consider that once people associate your name with an organization, it is linked forever. Taking the time to research the best possible nonprofit fit for you is well worth the time and effort. You want to be associated with the most efficient, most professional organization possible and in return you will find fulfillment through the work you perform.
About the Author
Catherine Dean is a freelance writer, gardener, quilter, and blogger. Her professional background includes nonprofit program development, grant writing, and volunteer management. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications from Georgia College & State University.
Her blog, Sowing A Simple Harvest, chronicles a modern couple trying to live a simplistic, sustainable life. To explore Catherine's professional credentials, visit her website. She can also be followed on Twitter.