Volunteering is a great way to give back, but it can be difficult to do if you're focused on your own stuff. Here are a few ways you can volunteer without disrupting your current lifestyle.
Choose Your Project Wisely and Set Realistic Expectations
Volunteering is a lot easier if you can find volunteer opportunities that you genuinely enjoy. You'll be much more motivated, and you'll have fun doing it. Set some realistic expectations too. For example, if you don't have time to help out every week or month, you can still try to make one event or project per season. You might feel like this isn't enough, but remember that even a little bit is still better than not doing it at all. (And, when your schedule changes, you can easily ramp it up.)
Look for volunteer gigs that correspond to the time you do have to give. Call ahead and speak to someone about what you can do for them with the time you can spare. You may need to adjust your expectations since some organisations require a minimum number of hours per week or months of guaranteed help. For example, in university, I considered volunteering with the local animal shelter. But they required a six-month commitment period, which I couldn't do as I would be graduating and moving away before then. You should always check if an organisation or group has any similar requirements before diving in too deep. In my case, I found another organisation that had a similar cause but was less well known -- and they were OK with me volunteering for the time I had left. Don't give up just because the most obvious organisation doesn't fit your schedule -- chances are someone else will.
Find Passive Ways to Give Back
If you really don't have time to give, you can still help others through passive channels that don't require you to go anywhere or spend lots of time. The most obvious form of this is through monetary donations. If you want to help but don't want to give money, you can also donate supplies or even your own items that you no longer want.
You can also help out by spreading message through email and social media. This doesn't mean you have to forward spam messages to everyone in your contacts, but just sharing a link to your chosen organisation's site can help spread awareness of their cause.
If you feel even that it too much for you, you can still help out in ways that won't require you to deviate from your current schedule at all. Here are a few to kick off your efforts:
- Donate your computer's spare processing power to a volunteer computing project -- NetworkWorld has a great list of projects you can start with.
- Donate to charity through your exercise routine.
- Give part of your purchase to charity when you shop online and the option to do so is presented.
- Use Goodsearch's search engine and they will donate a cent for every search you perform.
You have many options that will take almost no time or effort while still benefitting others.
Volunteer Remotely if There's Nothing Near You
If you can't find anything local that fits your schedule, try searching for online opportunities. By volunteering remotely, you have more flexibility with the time you spend helping out. If you volunteer through an app or site, you can login when you have free time. Even if you're only available late at night, you can tutor someone in another timezone or copy edit educational materials.
Start with virtual tutoring or mentorship sites like I Could Be, Achivement Advocate and Vmentor. If you're not into that type of volunteering, you can also find more unique gigs. One example is Be My Eyes, a service which pairs blind people with seeing volunteers who help them with visual tasks using their phone's camera.
Utilise the skills you already have and lend a hand by building a website, doing data entry, helping with social media or marketing materials and more. If you don't find those kinds of volunteer needs on an organisation's website, call them since they might not have thought of using volunteers in these ways. Even if your talents lie in less administrative skills (like playing a musical instrument), you can still use them to help charities raise money. You can even volunteer for just 15 minutes at a time with Volunteer Guide. Basically, no matter what your skills or interests are, you will be able to find remote volunteer opportunities that match.
Seek Out Opportunities That Fit Your Life Goals
Look at volunteering as an opportunity to address other goals you have -- like learning home improvement skills or going to more events like concerts, panels or other places that may need volunteers. Use volunteer projects or events as a memorable activity for you and your friends or family. You'll get to spend time with those you care about and bond over a shared, altruistic experience.
If you're really swamped with work obligations, think about the career benefits to volunteering. You can learn new skills that employers may be interested in -- which may convince your employer to let you spend some work hours volunteering. You may even be able to start a volunteer program at your work. You can convince your employer by pointing out how such a program feeds into corporate responsibility goals. You'll also provide yourself opportunities for leadership and the chance to build deeper connections with your colleagues.
If you want to bolster your references, volunteering is a great way to connect with those who can write a reference letter for you at the end of a project. As Forbes mentions, you can also find volunteer positions that will add to your resume -- such as being a board member.
Just because you can't commit to projects or organisations that require a lot of time doesn't mean you should skip volunteering completely. By finding opportunities that fit your schedule you can still give back without losing out on your career or social life.