By: Bernadette Starzee September 17, 2014
If you are thinking of donating your time and talent to help a nonprofit organization, you are in good company. One in four American adults volunteers for charitable organizations each year, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service.
And their volunteer services have never been more necessary. Since the 2008 financial crisis, nonprofits have seen their funding cut from public and private sources just as demand for their services has soared. Four in five nonprofits work with volunteers, according to Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator. Volunteer responsibilities range from basic tasks like stuffing envelopes to helping govern the organization as a member of its board of directors.
On Long Island, there is a wide range of nonprofit organizations that rely heavily on volunteers, as well as donations, to fulfill their charitable missions.
When choosing an organization, many volunteers are drawn to a cause that is important to them personally. For instance, someone who lost a parent to heart disease or a friend to breast cancer may seek out organizations concerned with curing, treating or preventing these diseases. Animal lovers often look to get involved with a pet rescue charity, while art enthusiasts may seek out an organization that furthers access to the arts in the community. Some volunteers look for organizations that serve specific populations, such as children, seniors or veterans, while others choose causes that are more broad-based in nature.
As you consider different organizations and their causes, think carefully about what you hope to gain from the experience. For instance, are you simply looking to give back to the community, or are you also hoping to meet new people with a common interest or make contacts and/or learn new skills that will help further your career? Certain volunteer opportunities will bring you in contact with a wider range of people and allow you to develop different skill sets.
In order to maximize the impact of your efforts, look for an organization that is well-run and has a good reputation in the community. Search the Internet to see what local publications have written about organizations that interest you. It’s also a good idea to visit the websites of third-party rating organizations such as Charity Navigator, GuideStar and the New York Philanthropic Advisory Service of the Better Business Bureau, which recommend charities based on various criteria.
Local universities, libraries and other organizations occasionally sponsor volunteer fairs, which help would-be volunteers get acquainted with many different organizations at once. Additionally, the Long Island Volunteer Center’s website lists hundreds of local organizations in need of volunteers.
Once you find an organization that interests you, make a phone call to find out how you can help. Before making a major commitment, be realistic about the amount of time you have to give to the organization. By starting small – such as volunteering for a fundraising walk or food collection event – you can get to know how the organization operates and decide if you want to become involved on a higher level.
As you and the nonprofit become better acquainted, you may have the opportunity to serve on a committee that matches your interests or to provide professional services in your area of expertise, such as marketing or information technology, to help the organization.
Nonprofits also need dedicated, talented individuals to serve on their board of directors. Board members provide guidance in running the organization while introducing best practices from their varied experiences.