Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.
Volunteering offers benefits to communities and individuals and the volunteer. Studies show volunteers benefit mentally and physically, and report increased happiness due to stronger social ties. But it’s also often presented in popular media as an activity for youth and for people who’ve retired from their careers.
What about all the people in between?
In honor of National Volunteer Week I want to highlight three ways to volunteer that even busy professionals—including folks with families—can try.
1. DIY volunteering.
DIY (do-it-yourself) can range from simple to complex. Busy professional? Think about meaningful one- or two-step actions you can take in your neighborhood or at work, like:
- distributing disaster preparedness tips
- setting up a book collection bin to gather good kids books, then distribute them to pediatric waiting rooms or reading programs for children from low-income families (make sure you ask the doctor’s office or the reading program first!)
- bringing a meal to a neighbor with a newborn, illness, or family loss
- picking up litter on a playground
- feeding a neighbor’s pets when they are out of town
What’s in it for you? DIY volunteering connects you to your neighbors in a less formal, more social way, and helps you build social capital.
Learn more about DIY volunteering and about neighboring. Also check out Follow the Leader, an initiative from HandsOn Network, that offers project playbooks to help you launch a DIY volunteer activity, like starting or joining a community garden, or teaching unemployed adults how to craft a resume.
Microvolunteering gives you a chance to connect your skills with one-off opportunities to do good.
Whether your skills include writing and editing, instructional design, or budgeting and finance, microvolunteering lets you find a project that takes a bit of your time, that you can do from a distance, and that can really help complement the human resource capacity of an organization.
What’s in it for you? Microvolunteering offers you an introduction to an organization, role, or issue you want to explore for your own career transition purposes or to practice skills you’re learning in school. And you may be able to display your work in your career portfolio (check with your sponsoring org for permission).
Learn more on Sparked.com, a site that lets you accept volunteer challenges posted by nonprofits around the world. Help from Home in the U.K. offers volunteer actions you can do in your pajamas, like call to have your used furniture picked up by a network that will ensure its meaningful re-use.
3. Family volunteering.
Got kids? Parents? A partner or BFF? Include them in your volunteer plan.
Some questions to ask, to get you started, include:
- What are your goals?
- How much time do you have?
- What activities and places do you already enjoy?
- What skills do you have?
Answering these questions with members of your family ensures buy-in and better outcomes. For example, if you already enjoy hiking with your family, consider spring cleaning a local nature trail. Children might enjoy painting a mural at their school – and they’ll take pride in seeing the finished product every day.
Even young kids can volunteer with you. Babies often make people of all ages happy. Toddlers can participate in simple craft projects, water plants, or help feed animals. And preschoolers can sort clothes; sing; play and “read” with other kids.
What’s in it for all of you? Volunteering with family means that you get to create happy memories together, by making a positive impact in your community. You can set an example of community engagement for children, escape boredom, and have fun together, often without spending money.
How do you find time to volunteer? What experiences can you share related to DIY, micro- or family volunteering?