WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT AS A VOLUNTEER?
Every volunteer opportunity is different, just as every volunteer is different. Your motivation to volunteer may come from a need to "give back" to your community, become more involved in solving societies on-going needs, or to use or learn a skill you'd like to explore. Whatever your motivation, one of the first things you should ask yourself is "What is the most important thing I want to get from volunteering?"
Only you can answer that question. It's really ok to have a very personal reason for volunteering. Perhaps you just want to get out of the house and meet new people. That's ok! Volunteering is a great way to meet like-minded people. Perhaps you are thinking of making a career change, and volunteering to work in a non-profit setting to see what really goes on is a great way to see if a non-profit job would be a good fit for you. For some people coming out of a high pressure business setting, the pace and necessary layers of decision making, in a non-profit takes some serious getting used to. Maybe you just want to make a difference by pitching in to solve a problem, like feeding the hungry or housing the homeless. That's great!
When you determine why you want to volunteer it's essential to think through your expectations. Here are some general, reasonable expectations every volunteer should expect from any volunteer assignment.
- You should be treated as a co-worker by staff members at the volunteer station.
- You should be given assignments that utilize and develop your skills.
- You should be given adequate information and training to carry out your assignments.
- You should be told about the organization, its policies and programs as they relate to your tasks.
- You should receive guidance and supervision by a staff member.
- You should feel free to discuss problems, ask questions or make suggestions.
- You should have a written job description and have a designated place to work.
- You should receive recognition for a job well done.
Be realistic when you begin your volunteer service. Remember, you are only there a few hours a week or a month. The staff is there, has been there, and will likely continue to be there, after you are gone. Resources, from people to money, can sometimes be in very short supply, so even the best idea may not happen right away. That is perhaps one of the hardest things for people not used to the non-profit world, must adjust to. As a volunteer, especially in the first few months, listen, observe, and be positive and supportive. Let the staff get to know you for a while. Certainly offer your suggestions or ideas when asked, but be patient. If the staff doesn't do anything with your idea right away, there may be a reason. It's ok to follow up, but remember sometimes the wheels of progress move slowly. Stay true to the core reason of why you decided to volunteer with the organization.
If you find that you don't feel you are being effective, first talk to your staff supervisor. In some non profit's you won't see immediate results on what you are doing, but down the line your efforts will come to fruition. If you find, even after a candid talk with staff that this is not a good fit for your expectations, it's really ok to move on. Just let the staff person know. This is especially true if you are in a regular shift, such as being a reception person at an intake desk. If you don't show up, and there is no one else who does what you do, disappearing is not helpful. Just like a regular job, give some notice so the staff can find a replacement.
When you come in for your interview, we'll ask you about why you are volunteering, so be honest with us. It will help us place you in an area of service that will fulfill your personal needs and fulfill the needs of our partner nonprofit. We look forward to matching you to something that will fill your heart and mind!