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The Value of Volunteering
According to Independent Sector, a Washington-based coalition serving the non-profit community, the estimated dollar value of volunteer time is more than $19 per hour. But the actual value of volunteering can be much, much greater – for you and for the people and organizations you volunteer to help.
The root of volunteerism is the desire to help others. You feel that you should do some good in the world, that you should share your time and your talents with others less fortunate than yourself. That is a generous and noble instinct, and it alone is enough. But what you may not realize about volunteering is that you can benefit as well.
Volunteering can help you build your resume or gain experience and contacts. Perhaps you have stayed home with your children for several years, and now you are interested in returning to the workforce. If you are having trouble finding a job, consider volunteering in your chosen field. You will get valuable, recent experience that you can use to update your resume. You also will meet people in that field, which may also help you network and advance your career.
If you are considering a career change, volunteering also can help you make the transition by providing you with valuable experience and contacts. The contacts you make volunteering, and the networking you will be able to do, can help you even if you are not changing jobs.
So how should you start volunteering? First, decide what you want to do. The options are virtually limitless. You can work in a soup kitchen, you can stuff envelopes, you can teach or work with kids in after-school or sports programs.
You can volunteer your professional services – charitable organizations always need accountants, attorneys, social workers, public relations people, computer experts. Or you can volunteer your other interests and expertise. Did you play basketball in high school or college? Volunteer coaching might be an option. Do you love children? Volunteer in a local children's hospital or pediatric unit to read stories or play games. Do you have a rapport with older people? Nursing homes are always looking for volunteers.
It is easy to find an organization that needs your help. You can search online, of course. Idealist.org is one of the major sites posting volunteer positions around the world, and there are many other sites. But you also can use a low-tech approach.
Start with the organizations you already know about. Do you belong to a religious tradition? Religious organizations are among the basic building blocks of volunteerism. Do you have children in school? Ask if you can help out there. Do you stop to watch kids playing ball in the park? Ask the coach whom to contact about volunteering. Or just check the phone book.
A program by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government agency that brings together volunteers with the programs that need them, targets Baby Boomers. Check out its "Get Involved" program.
Once you have decided to volunteer, be sure to follow through. First, you may have to undergo some training or instruction. And you probably will have to go through a background check to discover if you have any criminal history, especially if you work with children. If you don't want to spend the time in training or you don't want – or can't have – your background investigated, don't volunteer.
Once you have been accepted as a volunteer, don't overextend yourself. Your life is no doubt very busy and full already, so be careful not to promise more than you can deliver. When you agree to show up somewhere or do something as a volunteer, you have made a commitment. People are counting on you, and they will be disappointed – or worse – if you fail to show. Just because you are not being paid does not mean you have no responsibility.
Always give your volunteer position your best effort. Organizations that use volunteers usually depend on them to a great extent. You are representing the organization when you volunteer. And the people you are volunteering to help also depend on you. They deserve the best you can give.
If you are willing to commit the time and effort to volunteering, though, you are likely to find the rewards – both personal and professional – can last a lifetime.
One final note: You cannot deduct the value of your volunteer time from your federal income tax as a charitable contribution. However, you can deduct anything you spend in your charitable efforts, including transportation costs. Check with your financial adviser or tax consultant.