When Kelsey Timmerman organized a storytelling project as a volunteer opportunity in Muncie, Indiana, he wasn’t prepared for the reaction.
Six years later, his simple idea of using his writing skills to help share stories about what it’s like to live in poverty has become a nationwide effort called The Facing Project. In 113 communities across the country, 7,500 volunteer writers pair with local residents to record times in their lives — good and bad, uplifting and overwhelming. The writer-volunteers bring those stories to life by creating first-person narratives that are ultimately shared in various forms.
Timmerman is not the only one using his time and skills — rather than money — as a way to give back to the community. Whether or not you have money to give, you can make an impact with skills and ideas and find ways to help others in need. Here’s how.
Once you’ve found an organization, don’t jump in all at once. Instead, go slow. Evaluate how it operates and how you might approach a longer engagement, suggests Marci Alboher, author of The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life. “Talk to other volunteers about their experience, ask if they support volunteers with any kind of training or orientation, and see if you can dip a foot into the water with a small engagement before making a significant commitment,” she says. “If you are going to give your time, talent, and experience, you’ll want to know that you will be having an impact.”
Inventory your skills
Think about what you know how to do well professionally — say, your awesome spreadsheet skills — or interpersonal abilities you have (for example, calming others). It’s likely that an organization you have an affinity with needs those qualities. Matching your skills with volunteer opportunities provides a reduced learning curve, says Deepa Prasad, a manager at Catchafire.org, a website that lists volunteer opportunities. Using your skills outside of your office means “you can make an even bigger impact,” she says.
No time to leave the house? Consider one-on-one virtual mentoring sessions or join a crisis text line suggests Alboher. “There are plenty of gratifying experiences that can be done without even leaving your home,” she says.
While it’s easy to send a check to a nonprofit’s national office, contributing to the day-to-day demands of a nonprofit means you see results right where you live. Beyond that, volunteering locally often means you can adapt hours to work with your schedule, learn new skills, and expand your personal and professional network, Alboher adds.