It’s that time of year when many of us take stock of all of our blessings and start to feel the need to give back. It is commonplace to hear of families volunteering at the local soup kitchen or collecting canned food and toys for the less fortunate. But what if you are a busy mom who wants to give more than just a holiday helping hand? The following are some tips to guide you into the world of charity and volunteerism.
- Decide if you truly have the time to volunteer. You may have an overwhelming desire to give back, but if you are already up to your eyeballs in personal obligations, it may not be the correct time to volunteer. Consider making a donation and sharing information about the cause until you are able to carve out the time necessary to actively volunteer. Use this time to research several local nonprofits and make a running list of organizations which interest you.
- If you find that you do have some free time, figure out how much of that time you are willing to donate before committing to a particular organization. Specifics such as its distance from your home and number of mandatory meetings may automatically rule out certain charities. If you only have 3 hours to donate, don’t choose a nonprofit that meets 45 minutes away.
- Be upfront with your availability. Whether it is the classroom, a sports team or a charitable organization, let the leader know exactly how often you are available and when you absolutely are not. While some nonprofits welcome their volunteers to drop in when they can, others require them to commit to a minimum number of days or hours.
- If you are already limited in the amount of time you get to spend together, consider volunteering as a family. Many organizations gladly welcome older children. This can be a bonding experience, as well as the opportunity to teach your children about selflessness. If you have a high schooler, this can also be the perfect time to earn those service hours that look so great on college applications, and just maybe lead them into a lifelong pattern of generosity.
- It may be hard work, but ultimately volunteering should feel good for your soul. If you find yourself dreading coming in to volunteer, you are uncomfortable with the tasks assigned, you feel as though you are being taken advantage of, or you simply do not wish to continue working with the organization, do not be afraid to move on. It is senseless to take time away from yourself and your family to do something that is making you unhappy. There are countless organizations looking for good volunteers. Keep looking, you will find the right fit.
- Reassess your availability on a yearly basis. Your children may have more homework or extracurricular activities which may require your assistance or transportation. You may be working longer hours or have goals sitting on the backburner that you wish to attain. On the flip side, you may find that you have a couple of extra hours available now that your children are in school full time. Taking some time at the beginning of each year to reevaluate your schedule will help make sure you are effectively allocating your hours.
- Recognize Volunteer Burnout. Does the idea of coming in to volunteer suddenly give you anxiety? Do you find yourself presenting signs of illness or fatigue when volunteering day approaches? Are you becoming resentful of the mission, the leaders or other volunteers? These are signs of Volunteer Burnout. Volunteer Burnout often occurs after many consecutive months of volunteering without a defined break. Many charities are in a constant state of event planning and fundraising, and oftentimes this gives volunteers little to no downtime in between. Unlike the workplace, where your efforts are rewarded by a paycheck, volunteers must rely on internal compensation. If you are beginning to feel burned out, is totally okay to take a sabbatical. You might only need a month to recharge, or you may choose to sit out for a year. Remember that the time, talent and treasure that you are giving comes from the body of human being who needs to care for herself physically as well as mentally. You should always put your oxygen mask on first before attempting to help others.