Thinking Past Soup Kitchens: How To Find Your Best Volunteer Match

If the words “volunteer work” bring to mind an image of a person in a hairnet ladling soup, it’s time to broaden your view of the world of volunteering. While soup kitchens are one way to volunteer – and they might be the right choice for you if you love food and cooking – they’re only one option in a whole sea of possibilities. If you’re looking to get involved in your community, don’t limit yourself to traditional charities–find one you’re truly passionate about. When you find a volunteer role you love, you’re more likely to stick with it, and have a greater impact. Here are a few ways to help you find your perfect volunteer match:

Think about what you love to do. There is such a wide range of volunteer opportunities these days that you can practically tailor your volunteer experience to suit your exact interests and hobbies. Whether you enjoy being outdoors, in an office, or at home, whether  you like working with animals, kids, or adults, whether you like runningknitting, or creative writing, there is a volunteer match out there for you. No matter what you love to do there is an organization that will allow you to do it while helping others.

Think about how much time you have to give.  If you’re available on a consistent basis, like one evening a week or one Saturday a month, you’ll want to find an organization that needs people during those times. If you can’t make an ongoing commitment, don’t worry. Look for one-day volunteer opportunities to sign up for whenever you can fit it into your schedule. (Note: You may have to attend an orientation and permit a background check before you can get started with a new organization, even if you’re only volunteering on a  short-term basis.)

Consider your options. Check local volunteer opportunity listings on sites like VolunteerMatch and Idealist.org. (Both sites offer searchable databases by interest category.) Ask your charitable friends what organizations they recommend. If you come across an organization with which you’re not familiar, Charity Navigator can tell you if it’s a legit nonprofit.

Still lost? Get creative. If you can’t find the right volunteer match online, that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. Chances are, someone out there could use exactly the type of help you have to offer. Find an organization with a mission that speaks to you, and reach out. Let them know what skills you bring to the table, what you’d like to do for them, and how often you will be available. That organization may be able to create a customized volunteer opportunity that’s perfect for you.

Don’t love it? Don’t give up. If the first place you volunteer isn’t the right fit for you, give another nonprofit a chance. Volunteering has benefits way past the immediate good deed. The effects of volunteer work echo throughout your personal and professional life and ultimately help make you a better person. As Ghandi once said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Lisa Beebe

Lisa Beebe lives in Los Angeles with Stitch, a one-eyed Maltese dog who is her favorite living creature. She loves writing about creative, inspiring people who are making the world a better place. When she isn't working, Lisa volunteers with WriteGirl, a nonprofit organization that matches women writers with teenage girls for creative writing mentorship.

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