The world is a big beautiful place full of opportunity. One of those opportunities is finding a way to use your skills, talents, abilities, passions, etc. to help improve the world and the lives of those living in it. The world is beautiful, but it is also wrought with disparity, famine, struggle, negativity, etc. Sometimes it can be painful to open our eyes to the challenges of our world. It is normal to struggle with feeling unsure of how to help, where to start, or if anything you do would make a difference. We’re here to tell you, it’s ok.
It’s ok not to know where to start.
It’s ok to feel overwhelmed by the problems and disparities in our world.
But here’s where you really need to pay attention. You do make a difference. By being a beacon of positivity and by reading this article, you are starting on your philanthropic journey. As with many journeys you’ll experience, the first step is often the hardest. So, let’s make it easier. We’ve gathered a guide for how to get started on this journey. If you are curious about getting more involved in your community, giving back, assisting and vouching for the disadvantaged, giving voices to those without one, and making an impactful difference – you’re in the right place.
1. What are You Passionate About?
Passion. What’s that mean anyway? Simply put, what makes you feel something? It can be anger, sadness, excitement, joy, etc. For example, are you passionate about music? Do you find yourself spending your free time listening to, creating, or thinking about music? That’s a good sign music is something you’re passionate about. On the flip side, are you passionate about animals? Do you feel sorrow or anger watching animals that are abused or abandoned? Do you feel joy when an animal gets the help they need? Are you patient and understanding of animals, even when they may misbehave? If so, you may be passionate about animals and animal rights.
Whatever it is, there is a way to turn something you are passionate about into a philanthropic action. Here is a list of some common passions and organizations that align and address each one.
- Animal Rights
- Women’s Rights
- Climate Change
- Physical Health
- Mental Health
2. What are You Skilled at?
Take an inventory of your skills. Are you a great writer? Musician? Athlete? Mathlete? Whatever it is that you are naturally talented at, you can find a volunteering opportunity that incorporates those skills. Another way to approach skill-based volunteering is to ask – what skill(s) do I want to get better at? If you are interested in medicine, you can volunteer for the Red Cross or a Susan G. Komen Cancer fundraiser.
Take something you do well and enjoy doing, and find a way to combine that skill with a volunteer opportunity. This is mutually beneficial and one of the most rewarding ways to get involved.
3. What is Your Capacity?
Although we may like to think our time is unlimited, that is not the reality. We all have responsibilities, expectations, and commitments outside of philanthropy. When getting started with a new volunteer opportunity, you will need to consider what your capacity is. Some opportunities are more time-sensitive than others. Use your time-management skills when considering opportunities, and only commit to something you have the time for.
Additionally, capacity can include more than time. It also includes our capacity to handle ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally. Some philanthropic opportunities are more mentally, physically, and emotionally demanding than others. Just as you’ve done a skills inventory, take a moment to assess your capacity holistically. What can you handle at this time? Here are some questions you can ask to assess your mental, physical, and emotional capacity.
- How am I feeling mentally right now?
- How am I feeling mentally if I look in the past? 1 week, 1 month, 1 year.
- Do I feel like my mental health is in a good place right now?
- Am I prioritizing and managing my physical health?
- Do I feel physically well most days?
- What do I need to do to improve my physical wellness?
- Do I feel in control of my emotions?
- Do I feel like I understand and accept my emotions?
- Do I need some help managing my emotions?
These questions are not yes/no questions. Meaning, if you answered all yes or all no, that does not mean you are or are not prepared to engage in a volunteer opportunity. These questions are designed to help you take note of where you are in these three areas. After answering these questions, you should have added self-awareness for your personal capacity to give to others.
4. Research Volunteer Opportunities in Your Community
Believe it or not, finding a volunteer opportunity can surprisingly be one of the harder parts of this process! Fortunately, there are some third-party organizations that are dedicated to matching volunteers to available and needed opportunities in their local areas. Here are a few places to start searching:
Volunteer Match – Simply type in your current (or desired) location and see available volunteer opportunities pop up instantly. You can even search by skill area, interest area, volunteer type, etc.
United Way – United Way is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world. They support hundreds of smaller non-profit organizations dedicated to making a positive impact.
Just Serve – Offers to connect local citizens with immediate needs for volunteer services in the local community.
DoSomething – If you join the DoSomething community, you will be a part of one of the largest nonprofits exclusively for young people and social change, DoSomething members participate in our campaigns and programming to take action together on causes they care about impacting themselves and their community.
Give Pulse – Give Pulse is a local volunteer matching hub that offers exciting, comprehensive, and unique opportunities to get involved and get back in your local community.
Another path you can take is connecting with word of mouth and personal connections. If you have a teacher or mentor, you can always reach out to them to ask if they are already connected with any organizations that might interest you and need some extra hands.
5. Reach Out to an Organization You are Interested in
Once you find an opportunity that excites you and fits your parameters, reach out to the volunteer contact at that organization and let them know about your interest and availability. Here is a templated email you can use:
Hello [contact name],
My name is _______. I am a [grade year] at [school name]. I am interested in volunteering for [organization name]. I think I would make a great addition to the [organization name] team because of my interest in ________. I am passionate about [why your personal values and goals align with the organization’s mission] and am eager to make an impact in my community.
I am available to volunteer [times and days available] and would love to get started as soon as [available starting date].
Please let me know if there is any additional information you may need from me and what the next steps are to get started. I am looking forward to helping [organization name] make a difference by [reiterating what you will be doing as a volunteer at this organization eg: feeding the hungry].
6. Reflect on Your Philanthropic Journey
After you establish an organization to work with and begin your philanthropic journey, consider keeping a journal and taking notes about the experience.
Philanthropy has a profound ability to help us grow, evolve, and improve as individuals. Not only are you helping others in need and making an impact on your community and the world at large, but you will likely receive personal satisfaction as well. Many volunteers report feelings of gratitude, joy, and social connectedness. It is also a career development tool that can help you achieve your long-term goals, provide valuable perspective and insight, and relationship building.
We encourage you to journal or take notes or use a voice memo to keep track of how you feel before you volunteer and after. Here are some prompts you can use to address in each journal entry:
- How do I feel right now?
- What am I looking to get out of this opportunity?
- What did I learn today?
- Did anything surprise me about this experience?
- How can I expand on this experience in the future?
The most important part is to be open to the experience you are stepping into. Focus on being present, available, and whole while you are participating. Then, when you go home, reflect on how that made you feel and the impact it has on you mentally, emotionally, and physically.
7. Check-In and Assess Your Experience
As with anything in life, it is important to check in with yourself throughout the journey. Although this is similar to journaling there is a slight difference. To check-in, you will use your journal entries or voice memos to analyze where you started and where you are today. Is the opportunity serving you? Are you growing from the experience in a positive way? If you answer no to any of these questions, you may need to take a step back from the opportunity and do some self-work or find a different opportunity that better meets your needs.
If you continue to feel pessimistic, doubtful, or anxious about your philanthropic journey, you can work with a Positive Presence mentor to help you understand those feelings and get to a better place. Positive Presence mentors are uniquely trained to help teenagers and young adults manage their negative feelings and find personalized, long-term solutions to feel empowered, positive, and productive.