Guest post by Ashley Marshall, Senior Accountant at Jitasa

Volunteering has always been something that brings me deep satisfaction. I’ve offered my time in everything from ticketing for an arts organization to fostering kittens for an animal rescue. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work for a company that seeks to give back. On top of it being central to our mission, Jitasa actively fosters an environment that allows its employees to pursue their passions and donate their time.

I feel privileged to use my skills as an accountant in my career and still feel like I’m serving my community.

While it’s relatively simple to get out there and join a cause, gathering a group to rally behind your chosen cause can be tricky. I found that working with a group of friends, family, and co-workers creates a more fulfilling and meaningful volunteer experience. Over the past few years I’ve headed many committees of volunteers.

Here are a few common issues I’ve run into while organizing volunteer groups and ways to overcome them.

Getting Past the Stigma of Volunteering

Typically when you ask someone to volunteer, images of food banks, ditch digging, and highly emotional and volatile situations pop into their mind. Many people aren’t aware of the vast volunteer opportunities available. Non-profits range from religious groups, to large, nationally known organizations, to theatre and arts festivals.

There is never a lack of need amongst non-profits. Locally we’ve even found opportunities in Boise where non-profits need accountants to track sales, receipt payments, and reconcile day end reports for artists selling their goods at a local art festival. The point is, no matter your group’s collective skills and preferences, there’s a way for everyone to contribute.

Providing a range of different volunteer activities will increase the likelihood of more people getting involved.

Some activities may require individuals to step out of their comfort zones, such as dealing with the less fortunate, soliciting donations, or even spending time with the elderly. Working side by side with friends or co-workers can help alleviate some of the pressure and stress that can come with these situations.

Create a good support system, lean on your team, and keep your mind open to new experiences. It can also be helpful to focus on the reason you are there. Understanding the organization’s mission can remind you that what you are doing is an act of altruism. As uncomfortable as you feel in the moment, you are providing an important service to others.

Your Cause Might Not Be Their Cause

There are a handful of non-profits that I’ve worked closely with over the last decade. Some have been for personal reasons, such as raising money for Walk MS Boise in the name of a friend that has been diagnosed with MS. Others are more passion projects, like The Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

While I absolutely love spending an evening working in the theatre, some people inherently don’t find value in groups that support the arts, and that’s okay. It’s important to not take it personally. It took me a while to understand that this might not be for everyone. At first, it almost felt like a personal attack.

In order to grow your volunteer group, people need to be free to find the causes that move them and have the ability to support those causes in whatever way suits them. Different non-profits will hold different levels of perceived value for everyone. Let people explore, voice their opinions, and find what fits their beliefs. Avoid lecturing people or trying to convince them otherwise.

Overbook

Along the same lines of your cause not being someone else’s cause, people see volunteering as optional, which it absolutely is. However, many times your volunteers aren’t privy to the time and effort it takes to pull together a large group of people or realize the commitment you’ve already made to an organization.

Frequently I receive cancellation texts as late as hours before the event is set to start. Aside from this causing panic, stress, and a flurry of texts to anyone who might be available, I worry about how this reflects on myself and my company. To try to circumvent this I consistently overbook my events.

Despite the best planning efforts, emergencies will arise, and people will have to cancel. The upside to this is there are almost no non-profits that will turn away extra hands.

The possibilities for things to go off track are endless. It’s important to remember that we are all here to try to do some good, and a little bit of help is better than nothing. Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid some commons errors and make the volunteering experience meaningful for everyone.