Q: One of my New Year's resolutions for 2014 is to volunteer in my community more. But with so many worthy organizations that could use my time, where do I start?
A: Donating your time to a charity is in many ways similar to deciding to make a cash donation. You want to know that the charity you are considering is accountable and will use your time and talent effectively. Much of the great work that charities perform is made possible because of volunteers and the number of people giving their time continues to grow. According to the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 64.5 million people volunteered for an organization in 2012, or 26.5 percent of the US population.
"Particularly in this tough economy, charities need volunteers to help the community and those in need," said H. Art Taylor, president and CEO of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. "Volunteering can be an extremely rewarding experience, but you want to be thoughtful and do your research when you give your time, just as if you were giving money."
The BBB Wise Giving Alliance recommends taking the five following steps to make sure your time and energy are put to great use as a volunteer:
Identify your skills. Volunteering opportunities are available for any skill level. Consider what you are good at and what services you would be particularly well-equipped to provide. From stuffing envelopes to construction to providing pro bono legal advice, you can find a good fit regardless of your education or talents.
Consider your passions. Maximize your enthusiasm for volunteering by finding an issue that resonates with your own personal passions. If you are a runner, consider a marathon fundraiser. If you like art, look for opportunities to help out at museums and even schools. If you like animals, think about volunteering at a local shelter. By identifying your passions, you're more likely to stay engaged with the charity and be a more effective volunteer.
Determine your availability. Make a realistic estimate of how much time you're willing to give. Maybe it is just a weekend of picking up trash at a park, a week of renovating schools in your community or maybe you are willing to make a long-term commitment to tutoring someone to read. It is better to volunteer the amount of time you can reasonably handle, rather than drop out in the middle of a longer commitment.
Research the charity thoroughly. Just as you would before making a cash donation, research the charity fully before you volunteer to make sure the organization has a commitment to standards and accountability. You can view BBB Wise Giving Alliance evaluations on nationally-soliciting charities for free at bbb.org/charity.
Commit to stick with it. According to an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, more than one third of those who volunteer one year don't volunteer anywhere the following year. Even if your early attempts at volunteering were not a good fit, keep at it and look for new opportunities to give back. In a tough economy, charities need the support of volunteers more than ever.
Following are just a few sites that list volunteer openings:
For more advice on volunteering and to view charity evaluations on nationally-soliciting organizations, visit bbb.org/charity. And for the latest happenings and tips from your local BBB, visit BBB's Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BBBTNGA, and now on Twitter @BBBTNGA.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.