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Encouraging volunteering

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Question:

What are three ways nonprofits can make their volunteers’ experiences more meaningful?

Answer:

* Match the opportunity to their passions.

Whether it’s a specific health concern, education for children or an elderly neighbor’s house that needs painting, find out what cause is closest to their hearts and help them make a difference.

Some people search out a specific issue because it affected someone close to them. Others relate to a specific cause or agency because somewhere along the way, they received help and want to give back.

When volunteers have a personal affinity to the work, they generously lend their hands, head and heart.

* Help them see the big picture.

When volunteers understand the purpose of their work and the impact it will have on the people who will benefit from it, they value the experience that much more.

So help your volunteers understand that their time spent serving food at a local soup kitchen is about more than giving people something to eat, for example. It’s about giving them something to dream.

And don’t forget to thank and recognize volunteers for their contributions of time and talent. Everyone enjoys a pat on the back for a job well done. Whether it’s providing a meal or a certificate of appreciation, a small token of thanks and recognition goes a long way.

* Provide opportunities for social networking.

Whether folks are new to a community or just looking for something new to do, volunteering is one of the best ways to get rooted in their hometowns. And it’s a great way for people to expand their social circles and meet new people with similar interests.

Because there are so many different kinds of volunteer opportunities available, they can often be targeted to different age groups, neighborhoods or groups already sharing a common interest, such as a school alumni organization or a civic association.

Volunteers enjoy group activities and will come back again and again to share time with old friends and new ones alike.

Organizers can help facilitate social networking by ensuring that volunteer opportunities are meaningful, inclusive and, most of all, fun. When volunteers can say they did valuable work and had a good time doing it, they are more likely to come back for more.

These benefits also extend to families who volunteer together. By creating a multi-generational effort, parents have a great excuse to spend more time with their kids while instilling voluntarism as a deeply-embedded philosophy.

— Compiled by Laura Newman


Tracey Holmes is a director at the United Way of America in Alexandria, Va.

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