Everything you need to know to step up your volunteering in 2016

junior league austin done in a day volunteeringIt’s not just a nice thing to do. Volunteering is a physical expression of the issues you care about and the organizations you support. And volunteers contribute real value to the community.

IndependentSector.org estimates the latest value of volunteer time to be about $23 an hour. But beyond the monetary value, IndependentSector notes that volunteers contribute real services to the community:

Volunteers deliver vital community services like delivering meals, increasing nonprofit fundraising ability, help families recover from disaster, mentor and support students and more.

Volunteers give a voice to under-served people in their community by being an advocate for social change, enlisting other volunteers and donors from among their friends, representing children in the care of the government and more.

Volunteers contribute to make a more vibrant community like maintaining community gardens, organizing art festivals, contributing to nonprofit news services (ahem!) and more.

Volunteers advance solutions for social issues by working in soup kitchens and homeless facilities, working races that raise money for health issues, being part of a demonstration at the capitol, and more.

If your resolution for 2016 is to stop complaining and take action, consider the following types of volunteering below:

1. Help with office work. Nonprofits are chronically understaffed, and the staff is chronically overworked. If your work hours are flexible or you otherwise have some free time during the day, consider helping them out in the office. (There are even opportunities where you can work from home — simple!)

Yes, there’s always data entry. But they might also need someone to sort through thank-you notes, organize a photo file, put together thousands of invitations… lots of work. As a reward, you get to see your work get done, work alongside the people who make your favorite organization run and get a project off their plate that they’ve been dying to get done! The nonprofit will be eternally grateful, trust me.

HOW TO: Search VolunteerMatch under “office” and you can find scores of office opportunities locally and virtually.

2. Organize a volunteer activity for your office. Quick ideas include organizing a food drive or a blood drive, adopting a family or child in need, collecting supplies for pet shelters or kids’ shelters or the homeless…. And if you want to get out of the office, there are lots of volunteer days coming up this year though Hands On Central Texas.

HOW TO: Contact the organization you want to help (Capital Area Food Bank, The Blood Center of Central Texas, Austin Pets Alive!, Green Doors, etc.) or visit Hands On Central Texas to organize an off-site, volunteer outing for your organization.

3. Become a Volunteer Project Leader. You’ve been on a few volunteer outings — maybe some of them not so great — and you think you’d like to take these projects to the next level…? Then it’s time! Get trained to become a Volunteer Project Leader.

First of all, anyone can be a Volunteer Project Leader (VPL). Hands On Central Texas offers the training to people as young as 12 years old. And the training in invaluable. You’ll learn how to make a great experience for the volunteers, how to make sure you meet your goals and more. Plus, it looks great on your resume.

HOW TO: The half-day trainings take place almost every month. Stay tuned to Hands On Central Texas to find out when the next VPL training will take place.

4. Join a board. Board service is not for the meek, the broke or the overly scheduled. It’s serious business. You’ll have major responsibilities for overseeing the organization, raising money, growing the list of prospective donors and more. You know how there are nonprofits that get in trouble sometimes, go bankrupt, have troublesome employees, etc? Yeah, that’s the board’s fault. It’s for grown-ups.

But if you’re ready for a more serious commitment to nonprofits, board service is for you. Sometimes you’ll be recruited: A board member and a staff member ask to “take you to lunch.” (Be ready to say you’ll think about it… ) Sometimes, though, you have to be more aggressive and seek out the spots.

First, consider getting some training. I Live Here, I Give Here offers how-to board training in the spring. If you’re a person of color, make sure to learn more about GivingCity’s New Philanthropist project.

You might also inquire with a nonprofit you already give to or volunteer with. Look at their list of board members and see if you know any of them. Research them to find out if it’s all millionaires or if they take on non-millionaires. Research “Board service” online and read about what some nonprofits require.

HOW TO: Explore I Live Here, I Give Here site for board training opportunities and a list of most nonprofits in Austin.

5. Join a volunteer group. Volunteering alone can be less than fulfilling; half the fun is being around fun, like-minded people. So consider joining a volunteering group. The great news is, in Austin there are lots to choose from.

The Junior League of Austin is one of our favorite groups. This 80-year-old organization trains women under 40 to be community activists. Its members go on to become some of the most influential people in the community. You might also join a young chamber or an interest group where you work. Most social and networking groups also organize occasional volunteer outings.

You can also organize your own volunteer group. While organizing these events can be difficult, there are a number of nonprofits in Austin that welcome groups of volunteers. See our post “How to Volunteer as a Group” for more information.

For those ready to donate a little more each month, consider giving circles like Impact Austin, The Women’s Fund of Central Texas or FuturoFund. The emphasis is more on giving grants to nonprofits from pooled member donations, but members still get to research and present about different nonprofits to see which ones will receive the grants. And you’ll love the camaraderie.

HOW TO: Click above and learn more!

To browse volunteer opportunities in Central Texas, check out the following sites:

Hands On Central Texas – Part of United Way Greater Austin, organizes and advertises local volunteer opportunities.

GivePulse – Started in Austin, lists local volunteer opportunities.

VolunteerMatch – National database that lets you select your area and find volunteer opportunities.

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GivingCity is Austin's only cause-focused media company helping people and organizations understand our community and inspiring them to make it better. Online, in print, broadcast and live. Learn more.

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