I can remember the days when I used to think – volunteering, if only I had the time for that. I think most of us can agree that as a university student, it’s sometimes difficult to find the time to think about anything other than schoolwork. But as a university student that has a part-time job, is actively involved in extracurriculars, has a social life, and maintains a fairly impressive grade point average, I’ve come to realize that there’s always time – what really matters is how we use it. I have to admit that I’m fairly disappointed in how long it took me to realize the many ways that volunteering for a cause you really love can enrich your life in so many ways, so learn from my mistakes and open yourself up to this wonderful experience. Here’s how:
Step One: Evaluate Your Passion: This sounds simple enough, right? I mean most people have a good idea of the causes they’re passionate about. But while this may be true, you need to feel passionate enough to work for free (and it’s not always easy work either!). Volunteering should, for the most part, not feel like work; and you should enjoy the hours spent in your position.
Step Two: Be Honest About Your Skills: Everyone has a breaking point, and despite the fact that there are a lot of wonderful organizations out there that strive to make the world a better place, these organizations often encounter some scary situations. For instance, the Ronald McDonald house is an awesome org in Hamilton that offers housing for families with terminally-ill children. But as much as I appreciate what this place does, I know I don’t have the emotional capacity to oversee what goes on there. So while it’s important to figure out your strengths are, such as writing, public speaking, entertaining, cooking, etc. it’s also important to figure out what you can’t handle. Volunteering is already a therapeutic experience, there are many times when I’m almost brought to tears in my position at the SPCA, but remember you’re there for a job – so emotions can’t always get in the way.
Step Three: What Do You Want to Gain?: Consider what you want to gain from volunteering (this is when you’re allowed to be selfish). Do you want to…. build your resume? Educate the community? Fill a missing void in your heart? My decision to accept a position in the Development department at the SPCA came from a desire to gain all 3 of these things. I knew volunteering was a good way to refine my skills, but I’m also well aware of the wonderful benefits that come from being a pet owner. And at the same time, I was missing my family’s dog that lives back with my parents. Your volunteer position doesn’t necessarily have to relate to your major (though this is extremely helpful); decide what kind of fulfillment you want from your position.
Step Four: Be Generous with your Time: Whenever my schedule is jam-packed and slightly overwhelming, I do this thing where I look for even more stuff to put on my plate (it’s a serious problem). One day I spontaneously decided to send my resume to the SPCA, and the next day the volunteer coordinator was asking me to come in to chat about opportunities. It would have been so easy for me to shrug it off and decide to get to it “in a few weeks” “when I have more time”, but seriously, don’t do that. There are going to be so many days when you feel too tired to go in, or when your homework seems to be piling up; but you’ll forget all about these so-called ‘problems’ once you get there anyways. If you’re still not convinced that you have the time to commit to such a thing – read up on my time management tips to see that you do.
Step Five: Grow: Whether your volunteer experience stems into an unexpected career path, you perfect a new skill, you make a new friend, or any other magical thing that may happen in your position; you’re experiencing personal growth. Many organizations are happy to give more duties to volunteers that are eager to learn or do more, so don’t be afraid to become more in love and involved in your organization as time goes on. And don’t forget to share your experiences with others, so they may feel inspired to do the same.