The concept of volunteer work is to donate your time to support a cause you believe in or to support people in your community, but savvy volunteers know they benefit as much as the organization they are supporting. Depending on your goals for volunteering, different types of volunteer work may benefit you more than others. Before you choose an activity to volunteer for, think about what you hope to achieve from the work you'll do.
For example, here are some potential reasons you might want to volunteer:
Gain New Skills
If you are a college student looking to build your resume or a professional interested in exploring new fields, you should make sure that your volunteerism is relevant to the career you hope to enter. For instance, you can volunteer for a trade organization within your industry to enhance your networking contacts, or you can develop skills with specific computer programs or in new fields such as social media.
Make New friends
If you are new to a community or simply want to meet new people, you might want to consider volunteering someplace where groups of people work together, such as at a food bank or at a Habitat for Humanity project. Not all volunteer activities are communal, so be sure to find out how much time you'll spend with other people.
Spend Time with Kids
If you enjoy being around children, whether you have some of your own or not, you can volunteer in a school or at a shelter for homeless families. You could also work with a children's religious program or be a docent at a local attraction for school groups. Other worthwhile ways to volunteer with kids include provide tutoring, or mentoring through groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Get into Politics
Election years always need volunteers for political campaigns and for poll-watching, but you can get involved in a particular cause by searching for organizations that support your interests.
Help the Environment
Community clean-up days are an obvious choice for helping your local community, but you can also become involved with larger groups that support environmental causes.
Stay Fit and Happy
If you'd like to combine physical fitness with volunteer work, a natural fit would be to volunteer to coach a sports team or to choose to be a volunteer tour guide. Volunteer work has been shown to help people put their own worries into perspective and can help avoid depression, through interaction with others.
Help Elderly People
If you have a special place in your heart for elderly people, there are many volunteer opportunities that can make you feel good about what you are doing and also develop your skills in a potential new field, such as eldercare. You can volunteer at an assisted living facility, a hospital, or with one of many organizations that provide social outings and interactions for elderly people who may be isolated or simply need help with errands.
Nurture People Who Are Ill
Not everyone has the empathy required to work with children, adults or elderly people who are sick. If you have the compassion to work with people who are suffering, you can work in a hospital or nursing home. You could even gain skills that could turn this vocation into a career.
Support a Favorite Non-Profit Organization
If you are passionate about a cause, but don't have the right professional skills to work in a career related to your interest, you can often volunteer instead. The skills you learn while volunteering and the connections you make could help you get into college or lead to a job opportunity.
Fill Time While Unemployed
One the most difficult aspects of being unemployed is creating your own schedule and staying active. While you should try to find volunteer work that can help you in your employment search, you can also look for opportunities that you simply enjoy, like helping out at your child's school or the local soup kitchen.
If you'd love to experience other cultures in a way that goes beyond a tour bus, volunteer vacations are available. Not only will you be able to delve more deeply into a local community and get to know local residents, but you can feel that you are accomplishing something while taking a break from your real life. Be aware, though, that some of these volunteer trips can be more expensive than a more traditional vacation.
The Bottom Line
Volunteering can be extremely worthwhile. While there are many options for volunteer work available, the volunteer work that will benefit you the most will be that which most closely matches your goals.