When it comes to volunteering, Deborah Gardner has heard all the excuses. The most common? “I don’t have time to make a difference.”
According to Gardner, executive director of Volunteer Toronto, that’s because most people think if they don’t have tons of time in a week, any volunteering they do simply won’t make a difference. But in just one hour a week, she says, you can make a huge difference in the lives of others in your community.
“People always say, ‘I don’t have time to make a difference.’ And my response is always, do you have an hour? Everybody has an hour,” she says. “I think people underestimate the impact you can have just volunteering one hour, once a week.”
Let’s say you’ve got an extra hour a week. Why should you consider volunteering with that hour? According to Volunteer Canada, a national organization for volunteers in Canada, volunteering is the most fundamental act of citizenship and philanthropy in our society. It’s the act of being a good neighbor, helping out those in need and building strong communities, infrastructures and a strong economy.
Sounds good, but what’s in it for you? A lot, says Gardner. Not only do you get the feel-good benefits of helping others, you can also use volunteering as a chance to expand and develop your own skills. It gives you an opportunity to find new interests and take chances in a way you can’t always manage at work, and can lead to career growth and advancement opportunities.
“Without a doubt, volunteers talk about the rewards being triple to what they feel they give,” says Gardner. “If you help someone out, it does help your spirits.”
You may want to start volunteering, but the plethora of opportunities out there can be quite intimidating. There are almost as many causes out there as there are people, and so many are worthy, it’s hard to make a choice as to which opportunity to take.
But if you want to reap the benefits of volunteering, you need to start somewhere. Here are Gardner’s recommendations for finding the right volunteer opportunity for you:
Find your passion: Look for a cause or organization that has personal meaning to you. Passionate about saving the environment? Why not join a local “green” organization or opportunities with Greenpeace? Love music? Try volunteering with your local symphony or arts organization. Want to give to others less fortunate? Spend a few hours at a food bank helping sort and stock new donations.
Identify with a community: If you don’t have a particular passion, Gardner recommends you look for opportunities to help in the community you most closely identify with. Whether you define your community as a geographic region, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or some other factor, look for ways to help in that area. For example, if you identify yourself as a woman, try helping at a local women’s shelter.
Be realistic about your time commitment: Look for opportunities that work with the level of time commitment you are willing to give. If you can do an hour a week, why not look to tutoring someone in a subject you’re good at? If you can only volunteer occasionally, consider volunteering the day before a big event like the Run for the Cure to help hand out race kits.
Do what you can: You don’t have to do it all to make a difference. Coaching your kid’s soccer team, sitting on the school council or helping out an elderly neighbor by shoveling are all forms of volunteering. If everyone does their part helping others, our communities – and the world – would be a much better place. No effort, no matter how small, goes unnoticed.
A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.