top of page
  • Writer's pictureAndrew


Updated: Jul 22, 2022

Have you tried unsuccessfully to volunteer?

There’s widespread misconception that volunteering is both easy and an easy way to alleviate boredom and existential crises. It’s common to see people feeling light on purpose or heavy on time admonished to volunteer with a local organization. Unfortunately, volunteering is not always as easy as people think.

There’re good reasons why non-profit organizations working on shoestring budgets (or even large budgets) don’t make it easier to volunteer. Supervising volunteers takes work since doing meaningful stuff usually has a learning curve. These organizations may not have the operational capacity to train volunteers or monitor their progress while carrying out other parts of the mission. New volunteers require skills evaluations even to get started, as they may come from a variety of prior circumstances. Volunteers may only want to work specific hours and days, which is difficult to account for in a long-term organizational plan. There are many other reasons.

That being said, there are many outstanding organizations that’ve built volunteering into their business models. If you’ve looked around and none seem right, it may be that you’re looking for something more specific to your specific skill set. That can make things more challenging, though not impossible.

So, you may find yourself wanting to donate your time without knowing how to do so.

Here are some places to start:

1. Build something. While it’s easy to default to falling in line with roles and tasks that have already been established, it may not be the right thing for you. Existing organizations working with volunteers may need help with things that don’t fit your skill set, schedule, or interests. The good thing is that you have another option; you can start your own organization. Identifying a community need and finding a way to meet it is a great way to use whatever skills you came in with while developing some new ones, helping the community, building relationships, etc. Including old friends in the venture is a great way to expand opportunities. I suspect the biggest limitation here for most people is The Fear.

2. Contact an organization that might be able to use the skills you have and ask if you can help. Talking with organizations directly is likely to identify places where you’ll be a great fit. The caveat here is that doing so may feel like cold-calling. I’ve never personally been in sales, but my friends who have tell me that success is sales is largely a numbers game. So, be prepared to call more than one place before you find the right fit. Everyone I know who’s perfected cold-calling insists that it gets easier and ends up being a particularly useful skill, so this is a win-win situation.

3. Throw an event. Professional fundraisers discuss donations in terms of the ‘three T’s’, Time, Talent, and Treasure. Many outstanding organizations are busy with their missions and don’t have professional fundraisers to do sophisticated fundraising. You can help by putting on fundraising events. This doesn’t require you to work directly as a volunteer for an organization but it can help by increasing donation of the ‘three T’s’. Even a small event can have a huge impact: while 10 people at an event may only donate a small amount of money, it will certainly increase the visibility of the organization/cause and may build relationships between the organization and attendees, leading to donations of the other T's, time and talent. Putting on fundraisers will increase your network and will likely lead to other opportunities. Here’s a little commentary on where to start.

4. Check the internet. While I’m pretty skeptical about the potential for large internet databases to triage you in the right direction, there are a few big ones operating in the volunteer arena. Volunteer Match has a search function allowing you to input your location, skills and interests. Great Non-Profits is similar. Volunteering Options seems to be a similar program for opportunities abroad. Any search engine will provide you with countless links like this.

5. Check the internet for local volunteer search engines. Similar to the above but input your location in the search engine too. Many cities have calendars listing volunteer opportunities or even search engines that may get better results. Here’s one for Boston, MA. Here’s one for Richmond, VA.

6. Run for office. Public service may not be ‘volunteering’ per se but it is certainly an area where you can contribute to something larger than yourself. You don’t have to run for national office, argue on cable news, graduate from law school, or any of the other high profile things high-profile politicians do. Approximately 40% of races for local office across the US go uncontested so there is a need for more participation. Here’s a search engine for local races.

Service is critically important to our communities and can be incredibly fulfilling so we’ll keep updating this list.

bottom of page