Volunteering for Newbies: How To Get Started in 3 Steps

Volunteering has had a huge impact on my life. It has no doubt has a major impact on the professional and personal progress of my life today. I even go so far as to list it on my resume.

Whenever I speak with a friend who expresses the desire to volunteer for the first time, I do my best to help give advice that can serve to guide and inspire them in a direction that they truly want to go in. With more than 15 years of experience of volunteering in various capacities (from childcare to Board of Directors roles, to event planning to sales), I’ve had a range of experiences from the supremely engaging to the somewhat frustrating.

Perhaps you want to get involved in volunteering but are unsure of how to start. How do you determine what kind of opportunities would be best for you, and what are some resources you can visit to find these volunteer gigs?

Below are:

  •  3 steps with action ideas to give you momentum & direction as you sift through the many volunteer opportunities
  • Resources to help your search
VolunteerMatch's website - screenshot of home page.

VolunteerMatch is a great way to search local volunteer opportunities.

(1) Decide what kind of volunteer work you want to do.
Do you want to do something related to your career? Do you want to use your professional skills in a volunteer setting? Do you have just a few hours a week and want to do something like pull weeds for the local Recreation and Parks department? Or would you love to meet new friends while you volunteer?

Action idea – write down 3 – 4 areas of volunteer work you’d like to do.

(2) Determine the time commitment you have to give.
Understanding what kind of commitment that you can make is important to determine before you start speaking with organizations, especially if you are like most people and have limited time.

Perhaps you only have 3 hours each month to give. In this case, searching for a more structured environment with well-defined tasks could be a good way to start.

Or maybe you’re looking for a more open-ended engagement in which you could grow and tackle new projects to really make a difference to an organization. In this case, seeing if there might be a non-profit on which you could serve on the Board or do fundraising for could be a good place to start.

Action ideatake a look at your calendar for this month and the next 2 months, guess how much time you may want to give with a volunteer gig. It’s possible that you will need to take an orientation for your volunteer work, and you might not start within a month, but for planning purposes, 2 months ahead should be a good amount of time.

(3) With an understanding of what you are looking for (after completing the first 2 action ideas), now you can start to research what is out there.

Here are a few suggestions (which may be biased towards the San Francisco Bay Area region, though many of the below have locations scattered around the US):

Volunteer Match – American non-profit organization with a searchable database to find volunteer opportunities. You can find local or virtual opportunities, search by “cause areas” and filter by opportunities for kids, groups, teens, 55+ and more.

HandsOn Bay Area – This site allows you to connect to 1 day volunteer projects, searchable by specific date and criteria such as location, cause, skills you want to use and population you’d like to serve (veterans, homeless, LGBT, etc.)

LinkedIn – With this part of the LinkedIn website, you can search Board of Directors jobs. Also, try searching for “pro bono” or “board of directors” or “volunteer” in the search engine in the Jobs portion of LinkedIn.

One Brick – One Brick’s take on volunteering is that they offer a very social, friendly volunteer environment. Volunteers sign up for opportunities on a specific day. While visiting Boston for a conference in 2013, I volunteered at a 5K race one Sunday morning and met a great group of open, talkative people.

Craigslist – Believe it or not, a discerning eye can find some good volunteering gigs on Craigslist. Stay away from anything that looks at all shady, but don’t overlook some of the postings within the Community/Volunteer section.

Friends! Post on Facebook or Twitter with a message to see who could recommend a great volunteer gig for you. You’ll be surprised who may be able to suggest volunteer work. Friends of yours may even want you to join them for their day of volunteering.

Action idea – spend an hour or two on a few of the websites listed above, and send 3 emails to the contact people listed on the website. Remember, you don’t have to commit right away; you can simply email to ask more details about a volunteer opportunity to get a conversation started.


What other tips or resources could you share for getting started in volunteering?


Jen Burstedt

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