Being a volunteer has great emotional appeal, but fulfilling a volunteer commitment can become a real burden if you have not carefully considered the realities of your responsibility. Before you make a commitment to volunteer, ask yourself the following questions. Be honest and realistic about your answers.
1. How much time do I have to volunteer?
This is an important question. Many non-profit organizations rely on their volunteers for a significant amount of the workload. Even though you will not be paid for your time, efforts or expertise as a volunteer, failure to complete or follow through on a task can have a significant impact on other volunteers and staff with the program, or the project and/or the organization.
2. Can I commit to a specific day and time each week, or do I need a flexible volunteer schedule?
Remember, not only must you assess how much time you have to volunteer, but also how your time is structured. Some volunteer positions demand three hours per week whenever you are available while others may require three hours on the same day and time each week.
3. How long a period can I make this commitment?
Some volunteer projects are short term, others may be long term and many are ongoing and have no end date. Assess the length of time you can and want to commit to and make sure the program or project you select is a match for the time you have available.
4. Does my schedule change during the year?
Very often, schedules vary with the months or seasons. If you have school-age children, will your schedule be different during the summer months? If you are a student, do you work full time in the summer? Make sure you take into account any schedule changes that can affect your availability.
5. Do I have the skills or expertise to do the job?
Just because it is a volunteer position does not mean that you are exempt from getting the job done properly. If the position calls for special skills or expertise, be honest about your ability to handle what is needed and required.
6. Where do I rank on the emotional fortitude scale?
Volunteer work can be immensely rewarding, but there are emotional risks. At a horse rescue, for example, you might be faced with the fact that not all horses can be saved. Consider your ability to deal with tragic and difficult circumstances.
7. What is my volunteer budget?
In addition to donating your time, some positions might require you to purchase a uniform or bring your own equipment or supplies. If you must commute to the facility or attend several meetings, consider the travel costs, which add up over time.
8. What's in it for me?
Be realistic about the rewards you expect from a volunteer position. Make sure you are volunteering because you sincerely want to help, not because you feel it will benefit you in some way. Volunteer because you want to help, with no strings attached.
9. Where will I fit in best?
Give serious thought to the type of volunteer work you prefer to do. Do you want to work with people or horses? Do you mind physical labor or do you prefer an office-oriented desk job? Would you like to work behind the scenes or on the front line? Do you prefer working with other volunteers, or are you more comfortable working alone? The answers to these questions may help you eliminate some positions and may highlight others that would be a good match for your comfort zone and personality.
10. Am I really committed, or do I suffer from "great intention syndrome"?
The urging of a good friend, a compelling speech, or an emotional appeal by a non-profit group can stir our emotions and cause us to rush to the telephone or sign up to volunteer. Getting caught up in the emotion of the moment can make you commit to something that you will have to apologetically extricate yourself from later on. A volunteer who resigns shortly after training is very costly to an organization.
There are a million good reasons to volunteer and there are nearly as many opportunities to volunteer and make a difference. Careful consideration will increase your chances of having an extraordinarily rewarding and enriching volunteer experience.