Many non-profit organizations exist because of the availability of volunteers.  Budgets are limited and staff are few in number.  Volunteers enable those organizations to handle more tasks related to the organization's mission.  If you are interested in volunteering, consider the following.

Organizations that typically accept volunteers include--

  • Emergency service organizations such as the American Red Cross
  • Religious-charitable organizations such as the Salvation Army
  • Nature-oriented societies such as the National Audubon Society and Nature Conservancy Organization
  • Consumers with disabilities organizations such as National Federation of the Blind
  • Legal aid oriented organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union
  • Political organizations such as Democratic and Republican partiesOrganizations who successfully integrate volunteers into their daily functioning are ones who match volunteer interests with their organizations' needs.  For example, a nature center with only two full time staff can use a range of volunteers with interests as varied as gardening to website design and grounds maintenance to teacher's aid. 


When an opportunity arises to become a volunteer with a particular organization, pause.  Do not make a commitment until you first discuss expectations: yours and theirs.  Sometimes organizations misinterpret volunteer roles and responsibilities.  They sometimes treat volunteers as paid workers expecting them to do any task they hand them to do.  Therefore, to enhance the quality of your experience of volunteer work clarify expectations before you begin and repeatedly during the first year so that compatibility and continuity can be created between you.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What role do they want me to fulfill?
  • What tasks are a part of that role and how often is each done?
  • What are my interests and are these compatible with the suggested role?
  • What are my skills and are these compatible with the tasks expected to be performed?
  • What are my limits as a volunteer versus a paid worker?

Here is an example of what can happen if expectations are not clarified.  Perhaps you happily agreed to give four hours a week in the nature store, greeting visitors, answering phones, taking new memberships, and selling merchandise.  That was the role and nature of the tasks described to you initially.  You felt your skills and interests were compatible and gladly agreed to it.  Later you discover that volunteers are expected to open and close the nature center, feed the live animals, pick up the mail, lift heavy bird seed bags for customers, take bulk mailings to the post office, take out the trash, clean the floor, etc. What should you do?  Re-visit expectations: yours and theirs.  Renegotiate and if you've discovered other tasks needing to be done at the facility that interest you more, mention these. Express interest in continued participation but within certain limits.   

Keep in mind you are a volunteer giving freely of your time, talents, and aspirations.  They do not have to retain you nor do you have to remain with them if you are unable to work out an equitable arrangement.  Be true to yourself so that you can have a fulfilling experience as a volunteer.   

Resources on Volunteering

Read one of Jackie Waldman's books:
      The Courage to Give
      Teens with the Courage to Give
      Teachers with the Courage to Give
Visit her website: