How to Get the Most Out of Your Volunteer Time

There are many great reasons to volunteer. You can develop new skills and gain new experiences. You can meet new people, make new friend, and build your personal network. You can support a mission you feel strongly about while growing personally. Yet we all have limited time available to donate. Thus it has become increasingly important that we get the most out of our volunteer efforts.

Know What They Are Asking You to Do

What are the association’s goals? How will you be contributing to them? What are the expectations? Make sure you know what kind of time, money, and effort they’re expecting you to donate. Ask questions until you feel comfortable with what the volunteer commitment entails. If you can’t answer the following, then you need to ask them more questions about volunteering:

  1. Can you bring needed skills or experience to the table?
    Think about what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing. There is an organization that can use that talent, yet a lot of times we raise our hands for the first available opportunity. We never consider whether it’s a good fit for our skill set. If your talents align with a project’s goals, you will enjoy it a lot more and have a greater impact on the outcome. If it’s not something you’re good at, make sure you’re coming in with the mindset of wanting to learn a new skill.
  2. Does your passion align with the effort?
    If it’s a couple hours you might help out with something that you’re not passionate about. We all help out friends with things we don’t actually want to do. But if you’re going to spend significant time on something, you need to want to do it. Make sure it’s something that you feel passionate about contributing to. The more time and effort it takes, the more passion you need to feel to help you push through to the finish line.
  3. Are you actually able to do it?
    You might have the skills that they need. It may be a project you feel passionate about. But do you actually have the time for it? Check your calendar. Think about your current commitments to your family, friends, job, and other organizations. Then ask yourself if you have the capacity to add one more commitment to the list.
Don’t be Afraid to Say No

If you can’t say yes to these questions, then be willing to say no. We all have the best intentions. We all want to help out. But it doesn’t do anyone any good to say yes if you can’t commit the time, skills, and energy to accomplishing that goal. If you really don’t want to say no, here are a couple alternatives depending on your situation.

  • You might have too much on your plate. Let them know you don’t have time right now but you’d like them to keep you in mind for future volunteer projects. Make sure you actually want to help in the future and that you’re not avoiding saying no.
  • It might be a bad fit but you still want to contribute to the organization. Let them know what talents you would like to contribute. They might have a volunteer opportunity that’s a better match for your skill set. Or you might be able to contribute in a way that they weren’t expecting.

You should enjoy being a volunteer. It should be a positive experience that’s an efficient use of your time. Take a moment upfront to make sure it’s a good fit and that you’re getting the most out of your volunteer hours.