7 Tips for Finding Rewarding Volunteer Work
More than 62.8 million Americans donated nearly eight billion hours of their time to worthy causes in 2014. With studies indicating that charity work can actually increase your physical and emotional well-being—a phenomenon sometimes referred to as a “Helper’s High”—this year might be a good time to consider spending some of your time aiding others. Take a look at these seven suggestions that can help you get started.
1. MAKE SURE YOUR INTERESTS MATCH UP.
If you’re an animal lover, a pet shelter or rescue might be up your alley. If you work well with kids, schools are usually in perpetual need of assistance. The best way to make sure you’ll stick with volunteer work is to get involved in something you love. Try online search engines like Charity Navigator that allow you to plug in keywords and your zip code to find the perfect fit.
2. DO SOME RESEARCH ON THE ORGANIZATION.
Don’t assume that a charitable office has their affairs in order. While most charities mean well, not all are run efficiently or with a sense of financial responsibility. If a charity is ailing, you might decide that it would benefit from your time—or you might be wary of investing yourself in the event it goes under. Getting a sense of a charity’s structure and history will help you decide whether it’s being operated in a way you can support.
3. FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH TIME YOU CAN SPARE.
Charities depend heavily on the efforts of their volunteers, and it can be damaging to their efforts if you wind up not being able to meet the time commitments agreed upon. Make an honest assessment of how many hours a week you can spare and then do your best to stick to it.
4. PREP FOR AN INTERVIEW.
Aside from the whole no-paycheck situation, scoping out a volunteering position is not unlike a job search. Both you and your “employer” will want to interact one-on-one to size one another up and make sure obligations and details are understood [PDF]. Before meeting with a group leader, write down any questions you may have, including whether any training will be required.
5. DON’T BE AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT IT.
Increasingly, listing volunteer work on a resume has helped employers sift through applications and make hiring decisions. According to the New York Times, a 2011 LinkedIn survey revealed that 41 percent of businesses gave as much weight to time spent with a charity as they did an applicant's previous jobs. Depending on the time invested, you might even pick up a skill set that could help in a future job search.
6. IT CAN BE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE.
While it would be nice to put a price on your time and deduct it from your federal and state tax filing, the IRS isn’t on board—but they will allow you to deduct certain expenses incurred as a result of your charitable pursuit, including travel and supplies.
7. KNOW YOUR LIMITS.
Aiding people in acute crisis or caring for sick animals may be noble endeavors, but if you don’t have experience in those types of situations, they can provoke anxiety of your own. Volunteers should be able to pump their own brakes and admit when a situation could be beyond their ability to cope with long-term. Assisting in a hospital might be for you—then again, so might working in a museum, and that’s fine. There’s no wrong way to give back to your community.