Want to Make a Difference? How to ensure your volunteer experiences are successful.

By: Nanette Fairley
February 23, 2022


Communities benefit greatly from the work of many unsung hero’s – our volunteers.  Whether it is directing visitors at the airport, fund raising to meet a need, helping at the local special needs school or answering questions at World Expo, volunteers make the world go ‘round.

A more formal definition tells us that …..’Volunteering is a voluntary act of an individual or group freely giving time and labour for community service.  Many volunteers are specifically trained in the areas they work, such as medicine, education, or emergency rescue.  Others serve on an as-needed basis, such as in response to a natural disaster.’  What’s important about volunteering is that it is done by choice, it is not paid and it makes a difference.  While it does not have to be related to one’s profession it might enable you to use skills from your career in a different way or learn new ones.

Like anything we do volunteering can be a positive experience or a negative one.  The aim of this article is to help you set yourself up for success – so that you thrive from the experience and the organisation or community benefit from what you have to give.

What are your Volunteering Goals?

Finding a good match, a volunteer position that’s right for you, is really important and needs a little thought up front.  To help determine what might be right, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there something specific you want to do or achieve as a volunteer?
  • What are you passionate about; what is your heart saying?
  • What matches your personality, skills & experience, and interests?
  • What is needed?
  • And finally, ask yourself – Is it totally discretionary? If you feel obligated or volunteer from a place of guilt, your volunteer assignment might not be as enjoyable and successful as you hope.

How To Decide if a Volunteer Role is Right for You?

  • Be clear on what’s expected.You should be comfortable with the organisation and understand the time commitment.  Consider starting small so that you don’t over commit yourself at first.  Don’t over commit until you know it is a good fit for you.
  • Ask questions.You want to make sure that the experience is right for your skills, your goals, and the time you want to spend.  Ask about things like your time commitment, if there’s any training involved, who you will be working with, and what to do if you have questions during your experience.
  • Check your comfortable levels. Don’t be afraid to make a change.  Don’t feel you have to stick with a volunteer role you dislike. Try to understand what you don’t like and talk to the organisation about changing your work or look for a different organisation that’s a better fit.
  • Enjoy yourself.  The best volunteer experiences benefit both the volunteer and the organisation.  If you’re not enjoying yourself, ask yourself why.  Pinpointing what’s bothering you can help you decide your next steps.

What are the Benefits for You?

Identifying the benefits can also help understand what you and the recipients of your efforts, gets out of the volunteer work.  Some benefits you might realise as an individual include:

  1. More and more research is finding that there are great health benefits achieved from volunteering for your physical and mental health e.g.
    • When older adults volunteered to mentor children they improved their stamina, memory, flexibility and decrease levels of depression
    • Some evidence that volunteers live longer is emerging
    • As we age, there’s an increased likelihood of developing cognitive challenges.  Volunteering provides opportunities to keep conversation flowing, constantly stimulate the brain, and help overall cognitive functions stay active.
    • Volunteering can help you stay physically active which is vital for your physical health.  Inactivity as you age can promote the advancement of heart issues, bone loss, joint pain, fat, and a slew of other health issues.  Getting out and volunteering can help you delay or avoid these issues.
    • Older adults who volunteer and who engage in more hours of volunteering report higher levels of well-being.
  1. One of the biggest difficulties for older people, especially after retirement, is staying social.  Volunteering can decrease isolation, even if it’s only for a handful of hours a week.
  2. Volunteering allows you to give back to the community. You have a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience that others can benefit from.  Listening to young children read at school or chatting with patients in a hospital and helping them feel cared for, all make the community you live in, a better place.
  3. Volunteering is a great way to learn a new skill that your previous decades of work wouldn’t allow.  For instance, maybe you had fish tanks at home at one stage of your life and enjoyed looking after them. Volunteering at an aquarium might help
  4. Retirement is obviously an exciting and freeing time, but you may sometimes struggle with finding things to fill up your time.  Volunteering will often get you out of the house and also gives you something to look forward to.

What Can You Do as a Volunteer?

While what is possible will differ based on what is needed in your community and whether you want to be out and about or work from home, some of the endless options include:

  • Improve your neighbourhood – e.g. work to beautify your community
  • Fundraise for a good cause
  • Volunteer in a hospital
  • Mentor a young person –by being around them, telling them stories, and teaching them about life.
  • Clean up the environment
  • Work for a social cause you are passionate about
  • Tutor a child
  • Work in a food bank
  • Collect, serve, prepare, or distribute food
  • Fundraise or sell items to raise money
  • Engage in general labour, like helping build homes or clean up parks
  • Collect, make, or distribute clothing
  • Volunteer at youth camps, churches, and other places where younger generations gather.

Where to Find Volunteer Opportunities?

  • Community theatres, museums, and monuments.
  • Service organisations such as Lions Clubs or Rotary Clubs.
  • Libraries or senior centres.
  • Community beautification committees.
  • Local animal shelters, rescue organisations, or wildlife centres e.g. aquariums.
  • Youth organisations, sports teams, and after-school programs.
  • Environmental clean up teams.
  • Historical restorations, national parks, and conservation organisations.
  • Places of worship such as churches or synagogues.
  • Online directories and other resources.

Overall, preparation, reflection and research will help you get the most out of your volunteer time.  It is also important to be balanced in the amount of time you volunteer.  It doesn’t have to take over your life!  Research shows that as little as two to three hours per week, or about 100 hours a year, can bring the most benefits—to both you and your chosen cause.  The important thing is to volunteer only the amount of time that feels comfortable to you. Volunteering should feel like a fun and rewarding hobby, not another chore on your to-do list.  Enjoy your time volunteering and making a difference in our world!

#givingback  #volunteering  #retirement  #volunteeropportunities  #thirdage