Some people spend half their lives telling what they are going to do, and the other half explaining why they didn’t do it.

Volunteering has been a part of virtually every civilization and society. Defined as a non-profit, non-wage and non-career action that individuals carry out for the well-being of their neighbours, community or society at large. Volunteering takes many forms from traditional customs of mutual self-help to community responses in times of crisis and effort for relief, conflict resolution and the eradication of poverty.

Voluntary service features prominently in the activities of NGOs, professional associations, trade unions and civic organizations. Many campaigns in areas such as literacy, immunization and protection of the environment are crucially dependent upon volunteer effort.

The underlying premise underlying volunteering is that, more than ever before, more people are needed to offer their services as volunteers. For this to happen, there is a need for greater recognition and facilitation of volunteer work and greater promotion of such service, drawing upon the best initiatives and efforts – the “best practice” – of volunteers networked to the greatest effect.

A first objective is increased recognition, the second objective is increased facilitation, the third objective is networking, and a fourth objective is promotion.

Volunteering is not just an activity to keep yourself busy while you’re out of work. It can further your career by allowing you to learn new skills. Where to begin? Volunteer for something related to what your career is or will be: Director of Marketing for a non-profit? Public relations person? Charitable organizations often need help getting their group into the news.

Would your skills would make you a great salesperson, fund raiser, or membership drive coordinator?

When selecting an organization for which you’d like to volunteer, choose one that does work close to your heart.

Are you concerned with the issue of uninsured families? Worried about the fate of animals in local animal shelters? Volunteer to work with those agencies that address those issues.

Remember, even though you are volunteering, you are making a commitment to the organization. The most mutual benefit will be achieved when you volunteer for a group whose mission is important to you, and for which you deliver an honest effort to assist.

Many non-profit paid jobs require previous experience in the non-profit sector, but volunteers usually need no previous experience. If you are not sure which volunteer group needs help, here are some places to begin your search:

1. Research the causes or issues important to you.

Look for a group that works with issues about which you feel strongly. You might already be giving money to one of these organizations, and that might be a good place to begin your volunteer experience. If you can’t find such an organization, here’s a challenging and intriguing thought: why not start one yourself?

You can rally your neighbours to clean up that vacant lot on the corner, patrol the neighbourhood, paint an elderly neighbour’s house, take turns keeping an eye on the ailing person down the street, or form a group to advocate for a remedy to that dangerous intersection in your neighbourhood. There is no end to the creative avenues for volunteering, just as there is no end to the need for volunteers.

2. Consider the skills you have to offer.

If you enjoy outdoor work, have a knack for teaching, or just enjoy interacting with people, you may want to look for volunteer work that would incorporate these aspects of your personality. Many positions require a volunteer who has previous familiarity with certain equipment, such as computers, or who possesses certain skills, such as ability in athletics or communications.

For one of these positions you might decide to do something comparable to what you do on the job during your workday, or something that you already enjoy as a hobby.

3. Would you like to learn something new?

Perhaps you would like to learn a new skill or gain exposure to a new situation. Consider seeking a volunteer opportunity where you’ll learn something new. For example, volunteering to work on the newsletter for the local animal shelter will improve your writing and editing abilities – skills that may help you in your career.

Volunteering can simply offer a change from your daily routine. For example, if your full-time job is in an office, you may decide to take on a more active volunteer assignment, such as leading tours at an art museum or building a playground. Many nonprofits seek out people who are willing to learn.

Realise beforehand, however, that such work might require a time commitment for training before the actual volunteer assignment begins.

4. Combine your goals.

Look for volunteer opportunities that will also help you achieve your other goals for your life. For example, if you want to lose a few extra pounds, pick an active volunteer opportunity, such as cleaning a park or working with kids. Or, if you’ve been meaning to take a cooking class, try volunteering at a food bank that teaches cooking skills.

5. Don’t over-commit your schedule.

Make sure the volunteer hours you want to give fit into your hectic life, so that you don’t frustrate your family, exhaust yourself, short change the organization you’re trying to help or neglect your job.

Do you want a long-term assignment or something temporary? If you are unsure about your availability, or want to see how the work suits you before making an extensive commitment, see whether the organization will start you out on a limited number of hours until you get the feel of things.

Good advice is to start out slowly rather than to commit yourself to a schedule you can’t or don’t want to fulfill.

6. Nonprofits may have questions, too.

While most nonprofits are eager to find volunteer help, they have to be careful when accepting the services you offer.

If you contact an organization with an offer to volunteer your time, you may be asked to come in for an interview, fill out a volunteer application, or describe your qualifications and your background just as you would at an interview for a paying job. It is in the organization’s interest and more beneficial to the people it serves to make certain you have the skills needed, that you are truly committed to doing the work, and that your interests match those of the nonprofit.

Furthermore, in volunteer work involving children or other at-risk populations, there are legal ramifications for the organization to consider.

7. Consider volunteering as a family.

Think about looking for a volunteer opportunity suitable for parents and children to do together, or for a husband and wife to take on as a team.

When a family volunteers to work together at a non-profit organization, the experience can bring them closer together, teach young children the value of giving their time and effort, introduce everyone in the family to skills and experiences never before encountered, and give the entire family a shared experience as a wonderful family memory.

8. Virtual volunteering?

Yes, there is such a thing! If you have computer access and the necessary skills, some organizations now offer the opportunity to do volunteer work over the computer.

This might take the form of passing on free advice, typing a college term paper for a person with a disability, or simply keeping in contact with a shut-in who has e-mail.

This sort of volunteering might be well suited to you if you have limited time, no transportation, or a physical disability that precludes you from getting about freely.

Virtual volunteering can also be a way for you to give time if you simply enjoy computers and want to employ your computer skills in your volunteer work.

9. I never thought of that!

Many community groups are looking for volunteers, and some may not have occurred to you.

Most of us know that hospitals, libraries, and churches use volunteers for a great deal of their work, but here are some volunteer opportunities that may not have crossed your mind:

  • Day care centres, Neighbourhood Watch, Public Schools and Colleges
  • Halfway houses, Community Theatres, Drug Rehabilitation Centres,
  • Fraternal Organizations and Civic Clubs
  • Retirement Centres and Homes for the Elderly, Meals on Wheels,
  • Church or Community-Sponsored Soup Kitchens or Food Pantries
  • Museums, Art Galleries, and Monuments
  • Community Choirs, Bands and Orchestras
  • Prisons, Neighbourhood Parks, Youth Organizations, Sports Teams,
  • and after-school programs Shelters for Battered Women and Children
  • Historical Restorations, Battlefields and National Parks

10. Give voice to your heart through your giving and volunteering!

Bring your heart and your sense of humour to your volunteer service, along with your enthusiastic spirit, which in itself is a priceless gift. What you’ll get back will be immeasurable.