I love volunteering. My latest volunteer gig is actually a lifelong dream, from when I was 6 and wanted to be a librarian and part-time lion tamer when I grew up. I am one of the newest appointees to the New Westminster Library Board. Squee!
Volunteering has always been how I express the things that I love most in the world. My volunteering has included socializing cats at the Royal City Humane Society (including litter duty), helping out at the Vancouver Science Fiction Convention, and talking people through their hardest days on the Vancouver Crisis Line.
That’s a lot of different experiences, and most of them aren’t going to be full-time jobs.
But I do have a full-time position running Community Volunteer Connections, our local volunteer centre, so it is part of my actual job to help people get into volunteering. Here are my top 7 tips to find volunteer opportunities you’ll love!
- Think about the difference you want to make
Think about what you love, appreciate, value in your community. Going with what you love gives you a sense of who you enjoy helping and what will feel meaningful to you. It’s fine to think about the things that could be better in your community, but try and flip your thinking to what you want, not what you don’t want, because volunteering is essentially a very optimistic activity. You want to deal with crime in your community, but what you really want is a safer community. You can make that happen by volunteering with your local community police station, or getting involved with restorative justice or by helping released offenders achieve a crime-free future.
- Find others who care about the same issue
Find out who else in your community cares about what you do. That’s as simple as googling your city and issue to see what comes up. You can also check out Community Volunteer Connections’ online organization database.
New Westminster holds the biggest annual Festival of Volunteers in British Columbia, so definitely head to the Royal City Centre on January 30th to meet 35+ local groups and organizations to sample a smorgasbord of volunteer opportunities.
If you’re not sure what you love to do, try a lot of smaller things. Volunteering lends itself to exploration and experimentation. Community Volunteer Connections runs the Flying Squad, which hooks you up to over 100 short-term volunteer opportunities a year. You sign up for what you like and what fits your schedule. Many people volunteer for the Squad once or twice, then fall in love with an organization and start volunteering with them regularly.
- Prepare to invest yourself
When you do find an opportunity you love, be aware of how much the organization is investing in you. The deeper the volunteer role, the more training and support you to need to do it. That’s why most organizations as you to commit to six months or a year of volunteering if you are going to be working with a vulnerable population. The skills you learn on the Crisis Line or Victim’s Assistance are worth the investment. The relationships you build by being a friendly visitor for an isolated senior or a tutor for a child learning English take time.
- Be aware of what you are really doing
I sometimes hear people dismiss “volunteers who pour tea”. I cannot figure out why that’s become a meme in some of the circles I run in. Any volunteer position is more than just doing a task. At its heart, volunteering is about dignity, compassion, empathy and connection. If you are helping put on an afternoon tea for seniors at Queen’s Park Care Centre, you’re not “pouring tea” – you’re building relationships with people who may be lonely and isolated. The smile, the conversation, the interest and respect you show is what matters.
- Take it seriously
Take your volunteering seriously. Just because you’re not being paid to do it doesn’t mean that people aren’t relying on you. One of my favourite managers of volunteers always looked new volunteers in the eye and said “If you miss your shift, that four-year-old who runs to you and hugs you around the knees when you show up is going to cry.” For that experience in New Westminster (the hugs, not the tears), check out New Westminster Family Place.
- Put it on your resume
Employers love volunteers. Not people they don’t have to pay, but people who show the initiative and ability to work towards a goal greater than themselves. For an employer, volunteering means you are promotion material. In fact, Canadian studies show that volunteers make, on average, 4.5% more than their non-volunteering peers. In British Columbia, the difference is a massive 12.5% wage premium. International academics say these findings “support the signiﬁcance of skill acquisition to accumulate human capital, the importance of deepening of social contacts and signalling willingness to perform.” Volunteering is one of those amazing places where doing the right thing for community is also the right thing personally.
To Sum It Up
There’s no time like the present to get started on your volunteer journey! Come out to the New Westminster Festival of Volunteers on Saturday January 30, from 9:30 to 3:30 at Royal City Centre on 6th & 6th. Share our invitation from our Facebook page and you could win one of two $50 gift certificates at Royal City Centre, our venue and title sponsor!
Plus if you visit 10 tables with your Passport to Volunteering, you can enter to win a $500 shopping spree at Royal City Centre. We’ll see you there!
Devlin, R.A. (2001) “Volunteers and the Paid Labour Market” Isuma: Canadian Journal of Policy Research 2, 62-68
Hackl, F., M. Halla, and G. J. Pruckner (2007). “Volunteering and Income – The Fallacy of the Good Samaritan?” KYKLOS, Vol. 60( 1), 77–104