How to Give Back
As discussed here, I recently changed my facebook status to survey my friends about their views on volunteering. I started by asking, “should we give back?” Many people chimed in to say, “yes.” Twenty-four hours after asking, “should we give back?” I asked, “how do you think we should go about giving back?” This time, nearly no one responded.
I mentioned this to one of my friends who also volunteered in Uganda. He said, “to be honest, I always wanted to volunteer, especially in Africa, but it just never occurred to me that this is something I can and should do. I only realized I could do this when I met a few other people who had. I think the problem is, people just don’t know how to volunteer or think they are too busy.”
I believe he is right: people want to give back, but aren’t sure how to. Let me explain how I think we should start to give back.
First, honestly resolve to become a volunteer. Decide now that you’re going to donate some of your time. Your volunteer efforts don’t have to be complicated and all encompassing like an international development project (though they can be). It is fine to look for something that fits into your current lifestyle – like spending an hour at the local soup kitchen. Keep in mind, you benefit quite a bit by being philanthropic (also here, and here). So do the people you’re helping.
Next, figure out a way to give back that you actually enjoy and believe in – volunteering should not feel like a chore. If you like working with kids, find an after school program for underprivileged children. If you are energized by the chaos of coordinating huge events, join the events committee of a local charity. If you feel terrible each time you walk by a beggar (I do), consider volunteering at homeless shelter. In other words, match your efforts with your interests.
After you have a few ideas about what you want to do, find an organization to work with. Do this by searching online and by asking the people around you for recommendations. Many cities actually have volunteer bureaus that help place volunteers and organizations together.
Finally, and this is the most important step, once you’ve found an organization you like: do it. Go spend some time with that program. Schedule it in ASAP.
There are usually ample reasons not to do something, even when it benefits you. However, if you have genuinely resolved to volunteer some of your time, you will be able to overcome the little reasons that pop-up.