Thinking Past Soup Kitchens: How To Find and Volunteer For Your Soulmate Org

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If the words “volunteer work” bring to mind an image of a person in a hairnet ladling soup, it’s time to broaden your way of thinking. Soup kitchens are one way to volunteer – and they might be the right choice for you if you love food and cooking – but they’re only one option in a whole sea of possibilities. If you’re looking to get involved in your community, don’t limit yourself to traditional charities–find one you’re truly passionate about. When you find a volunteer role you love, you’re more likely to stick with it, and you’ll have a bigger impact. Here’s how to find the best volunteering gig for you:

Think about what you love to do. What activity do you enjoy so much, that you find time to do it every week or every month? Would you rather be outdoors, in an office, or at home? Would you rather work with animals, kids, or adults? If you love running or knitting or creative writing or even dating, chances are, you can help others and do that thing at the same time.  Some organizations even offer virtual volunteering, where you can help out online, from the comfort of your own bedroom.

Think about how much time you have to give.  If you’re available on a consistent basis, like one evening a week or one Saturday a month, you’ll want to find an organization that needs people during those times. If you can’t make an ongoing commitment, don’t worry. Look for one-day volunteer opportunities to sign up for whenever you can fit it into your schedule. (Note: You may have to attend an orientation and permit a background check before you can get started with a new organization, even if you’re only volunteering on a  short-term basis.)

Consider your options. Check local volunteer opportunity listings on sites like VolunteerMatch and Idealist. (Both sites offer searchable databases by interest category.) Ask your charitable friends what organizations they recommend. If you come across an organization with which you’re not familiar, Charity Navigator can tell you if it’s a legit nonprofit.

Still lost? Get creative. If you can’t find the right volunteer opportunity for you listed anywhere online, that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. Chances are, someone out there could use exactly the type of help you have to offer. Find an organization with a mission that speaks to you, and reach out. Let them know what skills you bring to the table, what you’d like to do for them, and how often you will be available. That org may be able to create a customized volunteer opportunity that’s perfect for you.

Don’t love it? Don’t give up. If the first place volunteer with isn’t the right fit for you, give another nonprofit a chance. The right organization is out there, and when you find it, you’ll be glad you did.

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