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Giving More Than Money: How to Be of Service

June 15, 2016

givingEach of us has been given time, talent and treasure in life. When it comes to helping others, most of us rely on our treasure, or our wealth, to support our favorite causes. Yet many of us want to be of even more service. We sense that we can discover a greater fulfillment in life by giving of our time and talent as well.

So how do we harness our time and talent for the benefit of others? One way is through volunteering. Organizations don't just need money. They need people. Volunteers are the lifeblood for everything from libraries, museums and animal shelters to youth sports and national parks.

With so many organizations that would appreciate your service, how do you decide where to put your time and talent? Here are three questions to ask yourself:

What's Your Passion?

Volunteering will be more meaningful if you choose an organization whose mission aligns with your passion. Ask yourself:

  • What is truly important in my life?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • Where do I want to have an impact?

To help you answer those questions, consider the kinds of news stories you are drawn to. Consider the discussions with family and friends that most hold your attention. The books you read. The movie genres you watch. You might find that you are interested in homeless issues, children's welfare, historical preservation, the arts—your passion can direct you to the right organizations.

What's Your Talent?

Ask yourself what you're good at. Consider the skills you've developed in your career. Perhaps you have great people skills that could translate into fundraising. Or you might be able to provide legal aid, accounting, graphic design, construction—and the list goes on.

Conversely, you could ask yourself what skills you would like to develop. Then you can pick volunteer work that will train you in that skill.

How Much Time Do You Want to Give?

Are you available for volunteering with one organization over a longer period of time—for example, as a board member? Or do you prefer to help with projects that you can sign up for but don't require a regular commitment, such as a soup kitchen? Maybe you want to apply your talent to one-time events such as helping with a charity 5K. Understanding the time you are willing to commit can save you the frustration of overextending (or under-extending!) yourself, thus making your experience as a volunteer more fulfilling.

Now that you understand your passion, talent and time, you can research organizations. A good approach is to contact organizations in your community—the food banks, the animal shelters, the senior centers—and talk to the volunteer coordinators about their needs. Or you can go online. Websites like Idealist.org and VolunteerMatch.org offer databases of volunteer opportunities in your community and even projects you could do online. Whatever you decide on, you can be assured that your service will not only help the organization in fulfilling its mission but give you a deeper sense of purpose.