Life Enrichment


A Beginner’s Guide to Volunteering
India Powell

It begins as a vague, restless feeling. You notice that news stories about certain issues have started to bother you more and more. But the problems—disease, the abuse and neglect of children or animals, poverty, the list goes on and on—are so big. How could one person change anything?

And where would you start, anyway? Although the issues facing the community, country and planet are daunting, the exciting truth is that the smallest act of giving can help make big change. Giving to the world around you is a crucial part of being your “best self.” And it all starts with one small step.

Take the first step

The organizers and volunteers behind the many charities throughout metro-Atlanta agree that anyone with the desire to give something of themselves, whatever that may be, can be a valuable asset to a cause. The first step is to ask yourself a few questions. What issue touches you most deeply and why? What unique skills and abilities could you offer? Charitable organizations have countless needs—administrative tasks, transportation, communication tasks, gathering supplies, etc.—beyond those you might typically associate with the group. For example, if you want to help homeless pets, but you feel you’re too soft-hearted to set foot in an animal shelter without trying to smuggle every last dog and cat out in your car, consider offering to write thank-you notes to donors, collect and transport pet supplies, represent a rescue group at an event or help organize a fundraiser

Find a fit

The key to giving back effectively is to find a way to volunteer that works for you. Remember, if it’s not a fit with your abilities and lifestyle, you likely won’t follow through with it, no matter how good your intentions may be. “By far, the best way to get started in volunteering is to find a volunteer opportunity that fits your needs,” says Robert J. Rosenthal of VolunteerMatch. The Web site is used by hundreds of Atlanta-area nonprofits to find volunteers, and it’s one of many great tools available for researching and exploring the ways you can make a difference. “Our research shows that people get the most out of volunteering when they find something that really speaks to their passions and interests,” he says. According to Rosenthal, more than 50,000 active opportunities are on the site right now. “But the only way for volunteers to ever reach those opportunities is to take the baby steps necessary to find them,” such as taking a few seconds to peruse the groups and think about what appeals to you most.

Ready to start your search right now? Go to the Volunteer Today page, which includes a listing of charity events and volunteer opportunities throughout metro Atlanta.  If you are unsure what your volunteer “fit” might be, you can always “audition” several types of volunteer tasks until you find the perfect fit for you.

Ways to Help In Ten Minutes

  1. Go to the Volunteer Today Page and research charities. Find the one that touches you most, then contact the group to ask how you can get involved
  2. Ask your hairdresser, the manager of your favorite restaurant, or a local boutique owner for a gift certificate you can donate to your charity’s fundraiser
  3. Ask a storeowner or manager if you can put a coin box from your charity at the cash register.
  4. Send an e-mail to everyone in your address book with a heartfelt request that they each donate a few dollars or a few minutes of their time to your cause. (Or set up your own page on Facebook or another social networking site and invite all your friends to join the cause.)
  5. Dump out your change jar, roll up the coins and donate the money to your charity.
  6. Ask your company to become a corporate sponsor of your charity or to host a volunteer day.
  7. Donate your used cell phone, computer, books or eyeglasses. To find organizations near you, visit
  8. When shopping, choose products that support or are consistent with your cause. Many companies donate a portion of proceeds to charity, and if your cause is animal-related, pick products that aren’t tested on animals.
  9. Visit Web sites that donate money to your cause, such as, and Encourage others to do the same by adding a link in your e-mail signature.
  10. Squeeze a charitable act into the chores and errands you’re already doing. For example, you can give your compost pile to a local public garden, call your kids’ school before you shop to see if supplies are needed, or write a blog post about a cause you care about.
  11. Make a donation of any amount on your charity’s Web site—don’t put it off until later
  12. When shopping online, use a site that donates a portion of all purchases to the charity of your choice, such as, or

In Ten Hours

  1. Build your own database of media contacts (to help promote your cause), local businesses that are willing to donate to you, and friends who will support you.
  2. Volunteer for a day at a shelter, nursing home, local pet adoption day, home build for the disadvantaged or another event.
  3. Organize a supply drive or fundraiser for a local shelter or charity.

In Ten Days

  1. Join a charitable committee or start your own committee. Pick a cause that interests you, recruit a few friends and plan a fundraiser. It can be as simple as a bake sale or as involved as a gala.
  2. Get the whole family involved. Challenge your children’s class or entire school to collect the most cans, coins, etc. for your cause.
  3. Pick a bigger project with a deadline and clear completion point. Charities need skilled professionals to do design projects, Web site building, marketing support and other projects.
  4. Consider fostering for an animal rescue group newborn puppies or kittens that need bottle-feeding.

Did You Know?

Atlanta has an average annual volunteer rate of 26.8 percent, with 1.1 million volunteers serving 150 million hours per year.

The average number of volunteer hours per resident in Atlanta is 38.1 per year.

By donating their time, Atlanta’s volunteers make an estimated annual
economic contribution of $2.9 billion.


Reap the rewards

It sounds cliche, but those who volunteer will tell you that the old idea that you get back what you give (and then some) is absolutely true. You’ll find that when you turn your desire to help into action, feelings of frustration and hopelessness transform into feelings of purpose and positivity. You’ll start to draw from the energy, inspiration and enthusiasm of those you’re working alongside, and you may even find yourself building new relationships with people who share your passion.

And as an added perk, research shows that giving back is good for your health. A study by the Corporation for National and Community Service shows a significant connection between volunteering and good health. The report shows that volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease.

“This is good news for people who volunteer,” says Robert Grimm, director of the Corporation’s Office of Research and Policy Development and senior counselor to the CEO. “This research is particularly relevant to baby boomers, who are receiving as well as giving when they help others. Just 2 hours of volunteering a week can bring meaningful benefits to a person’s body and mind.”

Armed with the questions to ask yourself, the tools to find your perfect fit, and the many good reasons to give back, you’re ready to start your own volunteering endeavors. You’ll likely find that in addition to changing the world around you, you’re changing yourself for the better, too.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Who do I want most to be able to help? The elderly? The homeless? Children? Animals?
  2. What issues have affected me personally most directly? An illness/disease (for example, breast cancer, AIDS, diabetes, etc.)? A challenge, such as illiteracy or disabilities? Abuse?
  3. How much time each week or month do I realistically have to devote to a cause? Am I free to volunteer in person, do I need to help from home only, or can I do both?
  4. What skills, abilities or talents do I have? (Think broadly. Talents like excellent phone skills, graphic design, a penchant for party planning or a flair for organization are needed as much as any!)
  5. Why do I want to volunteer?