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Finding the Optimal Volunteer Opportunity

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Recently,Kerry Hannon from Next Avenue wrote a wonderful article about the joy giving back can bring. She talks about the importance of volunteering in a position that matches your interests and skill set, but that doing so is sometimes easier said than done. Not all volunteer opportunities are a good fit for all individuals. You can – and should – be choosy about how and where you decide to volunteer. You want to end up in a position where you are comfortable with the people, the goals of the organization, and at the same time feel you are making an important contribution. If the position is a mismatch, you may end up bored and frustrated.

Ms. Hannon gives these 9 tips to help you find your volunteering joy.

9 Tips to Find an Ideal Volunteering Gig

:1. Know what you can contribute: Nonprofits often seek people to help in precise areas, like fundraising, marketing, event planning, web design and accounting.

Think strategically about what the volunteer experience can do for you.

“Volunteering can be a stepping stone to other opportunities,” said Betsy Werley, director of network expansion at, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people over 50 make a social impact, and former executive director of The Transition Network, a national group for women over 50 in transition.”

Your goal might ultimately be to obtain a paid position or use the volunteering time to fine tune your technology skills to take elsewhere or set up your own agency.

2. Pinpoint your purpose:  Why do you want to volunteer? For the social aspects? Because you are wanting to be busier or hope for a regular schedule outside your home? Or, is your primary goal to learn something new to keep your mind sharp? It’s important to have a concrete idea about how you want  to spend your time and energy before you commit to an organization.

3. Be realistic about your availability.  To avoid burn-out, don’t commit too much time than you might realistically be able to contribute. You also want to avoid volunteering at an organization located at a distance or in an inconvenient area. A volunteer position should not be overly stressful, and you have control over how often you work and how far you have to drive to get there.

4. Know where and how you want to make a difference. Ask yourself if you prefer volunteering in an office to working on your computer at home with no face-to-face interaction. Consider also if you want work on a local level where you can quickly see the results of your contributions or instead work on a bigger long-term project. The choice is yours, but first you need to decide how you want to spend your time and energy.

 5. Reach out to alumni associations and faith-based networks. Serving on a board offers intellectual engagement and the opportunity to impact the organization at some level. Board work is also a good way to develop new friendships with like minded people.

6. Browse through websites geared to skill-based volunteering. A few excellent sites where you can find appropriate nonprofit opportunities:,,, (for professionals), and (for pro bono work). has a searchable map that shows encore programs around the country.

7. Find organizations that offer an interview before you commit. A conversation with the leaders of an organization can provide you with a sense of the group’s agenda and current needs. An interview will also help both you and the group decide if you will be a good fit.

The federal government’s RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) is one of the largest volunteer networks in the U.S. for people 55 plus that focuses on skill based opportunities  — and has a well-established interview process to encourage success for both parties.

8. Look into local nonprofit matchmakers.  Most big cities have some sort of organization in place to match people to volunteer gigs.  Metro Volunteers in Denver and NYC Service in New York City are good examples.

9. Start with baby steps.   Each organization has its own culture, and the first one you choose may not work out. Says Werley,

“Treat it as a learning experience, and you will find out what you like and don’t like.” Commit to a short-term project and then, if you’re not finding the volunteering fulfilling, politely move on.”

The Bottom Line

Your time is valuable; spend it in a way that makes you happy and allows you to age with a purpose.



A version of this article was originally published in Next Avenue

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