A quick internet search of “What types of volunteering roles are there” will produce results that span the page offering tips for everything from the different categories of volunteer organizations to lists for students and even specific organizations who need volunteers.

What these lists don’t provide, however, is a targeted list defining the two sides of the volunteer coin for potential volunteers which are: 1. Know yourself and 2. Know the organization.

Start with self-reflection.

As you get started, ask yourself these 10 questions:

  1. What causes are you interested in advancing?
  2. What are you passionate about?
  3. What do you want to get out of a volunteer opportunity?
  4. How much time can you commit to a volunteer role (both in the short and long-term)?
  5. Do you have skills or expertise that can be useful to an organization’s type of work, such as finance, accounting, strategic planning, public relations, human resources, etc.?
  6. Do you want to volunteer the same skills you hone from 9-5 in your volunteer time, or do you want to do something completely different than your paid job?
  7. Do you seek to be a role model to others?
  8. Do you want to meet others outside your usual professional and social circles?
  9. Would you prefer to travel or stay close to home?
  10. Do you work better in a group or working independently/one-on-one?

Once you have a firm understanding of your motivations and the type of skills you’d like to leverage to support an organization, determine your fit within it.

  • Do you want to work directly with those who are receiving the service provided by the organization?
  • Would you be more comfortable providing financial support?
  • Do you want to offer your professional expertise on a committee, a task force, or even on a board?

Get to know the organization.

When evaluating these different paths of service, begin to reach out to the organizations you are most interested in and find out what volunteer roles are available.

Visit the organization’s website to learn about their services. Typically, a “contact us” form or email will be a good starting point, but don’t underestimate the power of your professional connections. If there is an organization you are interested in, see if there are others in your social or professional circle already involved. Visit the organization’s Facebook page and see which of your friends already like or follow them. Reach out to your friends or colleagues to learn about the organizational climate, the leadership and personal experiences to further determine your “right fit.”

If there are opportunities to attend an event sponsored by the organization, do so and learn more about their activities and the services they provide. Visit with the volunteers who are there and meet some of their clients, if possible.

Understanding how the organization is governed by its Board of Directors can also provide a deeper level of knowledge and expectations. Types of boards range from a governing board which focuses on the big picture of the organization to a working board, which also does double duty with project management. Some boards have the responsibility to raise funds for the organization or requirements for board members to “give or get” a defined contribution amount. Still other boards are policy boards that direct operations through the development of policies that guide operational decisions, while other boards are advisory, providing insight and perspective to the organization’s staff.

Each of these oversight styles create a unique flavor and tone for the volunteers involved.

A better understanding of these two aspects will guide the decision for the most meaningful and appropriate fit for the first-time volunteer.