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

Ready To Donate: Pret A Manger’s Food Donation Program

While in New York, I noticed a sign within the UK sandwich and coffee chain Pret A Manger donates its leftover food at the end of the day to those less fortunate at the end of the day. What a great idea!



A pie chart showing food waste by type of food from the article, “Total and per capita value of food loss in the United States.”


According to a recent study, up to 40% of the food produced in the US is wasted each year; a 2012 Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report cites the USDA’s statistic that 19% of the total US retail-level food supply was lost in 2008. Imagine what could be done with this 86 billion pounds of prepared food – quite a lot, when you think about it.


  • What kind of incentives could be offered to create a habit of social consciousness where other restaurants follow suit instead of having Pret A Manger as one outstanding example?
  • What – since there would be some – risks involved?
  • Who would sponsor or support such an effort to offer incentives to restaurants – or would this defeat in creating a infrastructure to sponsor these types of efforts?


Pret A Manger seems to have a different philosophy about how they treat their customers and how they motivate employees – as this 2011 New York Times article describes.  More than selling sandwiches, Pret A Manger seems to be disseminating a different message than most fast food or coffee chains: they have heart and, since they can put in the extra effort to give back to lessen waste while helping others, why not?


But is it in their corporate culture, or do they do it because of the positive reverberations back to their company? It seems that the positive press, highly motivating atmosphere and generous values has a way of paying back much more than the initial effort Pret A Manger invested. Whatever the motivation, their food donation benefits the company and the common good. Pret A Manger should be applauded in their efforts which show that charity and generosity do pay off.


Now, how could social marketing use this example to influence other for-profit restaurants to follow suit?

Best of both worlds? Business and social responsibility.

Business and social responsibility – can you believe the two can both exist in a business setting? Yes, they can – and as of 2007, a growing number of businesses are aiming for a certification that can pretty reliably and thoroughly make this judgment call.


This past Wednesday, I attended an event at NextSpace (an awesome co-working space where my sister also happens to work) and saw a great presentation on benefit corporations – also known as B Corps.



Benefit corporation logo


B Corp status is a certification that a business can achieve on top of their regular business status and sees itself as a way to redefine business and provide a better framework to judge the success of an organization: instead of judging a company by the profits it makes, why not also take into consideration how it treats its employees, its effects on the environment and on local communities.


To become a B Corp, a corporation must pass high standards of :

– social and environmental performance

– accountability

– transparency


Certification is given out by a non-profit organization called B Lab.


In plain language, a B Corp is a corporation that doesn’t only think about the bottom line, but about the entire ecosystem of what it is impacting: the its employees, its stakeholders, the environment, the world. A variety of factors are taken into account to assess a corporation to see if it fits the high bar set for a benefit corporation.


Today, B Corps numbers around 750 – companies like Patagonia, Method, Ben and Jerry’s and King Arthur Flour are certified with B Corp status.




Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I see this as a movement to keep an eye on: as more well-known brands start joining, this will hopefully increase the standards and demand for such a type of certification by employees and consumers alike, eventually causing pressure for other companies to join in.


Are you familiar with the B Corp certification, or have you worked for a B Corp yourself? Judging from your own experiences at your company (B Corp or not), do you think this idea will gain widespread traction quickly?

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