Being able to volunteer means you’re capable of sharing your time, skills, or other resources to those who are in need of help. You’re fortunate to have extra time to spend beyond basic needs; you’re blessed to have honed a skill and leverage it for a social purpose; you’re lucky to have an excess of resources that others can briefly maximize. Some may seem to have more to share but it doesn’t mean they are entitled to privileges; in fact, committing to help also comes with a responsibility.
The following are simple guidelines to ensure your volunteer experience is constructive for you and more importantly for the host organization, community, and individual beneficiaries that are receiving your kindness.
- Bring a positive energy and attitude. Start with understanding the background of the community you are volunteering for. Not everybody is as receptive and playful as when you are volunteering to support kids; some may be demanding or at times reserved, especially those who are recovering from a trauma experience or severe illness. Sense what they need by getting to know them. Encourage them by sharing yourself through inspirational stories; cheer them up by partnering with them to participate in programs organized by the host organization. At times, sitting by their side and being silent is already enough for them to feel comforted. SMILE!
- Raise your hand. Volunteer managers often wear two or three hats during a volunteering event which might leave the volunteers unmonitored. Since you have already made the first step to volunteer and be in the event, maximize the time by proactively working on the tasks that need attention. Organize your fellow volunteers in a way that the program execution becomes effective for your beneficiaries. As you become familiar with the host organization on a longer term, actively engage with them to define the right problems to be solved and volunteer to help bring the solutions to life. Most likely than not, you will bring fresh new perspective that may just be what’s needed to accelerate solving the issues at hand.
- Be professional. It’s been observed that volunteering is something that can be easily deprioritized. Like any other personal events, you should value your commitment and write it down in your organizer. If you really have to cancel, do it as early as possible—avoid doing it a day before. Volunteer opportunities are limited and your slot could have been given to somebody else. Imagine if it was supposed to be a 1-on-1 tutorial with a kid; there will be one kid who would not have a teacher because of your late cancellation. Be punctual on the event so as you don’t miss the volunteer orientation that happens normally at the beginning else you could potentially disrupt the entire program. Complete your tasks with quality as your beneficiaries can sense the level of a volunteer’s sincerity.
- Be sensitive with your language. Your host organization would be the expert on this. As mentioned in #3, ensure you don’t miss the volunteer briefing where you can ask how to best manage the beneficiaries and what are things you must and must not say. The best conversations with your beneficiary is when they willingly tell a story. However, be sensitive in cases that they are not comfortable to answer ‘why’s. When you are not sure whether it is appropriate or not, just simply choose not to ask. Some delicate topics to bring up: parents and family with orphans, or traumatic experiences with a victim.
- Wear the proper attire. Be as simple as possible. In most cases, a shirt and jeans would do. Don’t let your gear limit your interaction and participation by understanding the venue and nature of the activity. Some examples: bring a pair of boots if the place is muddy; have an extra change of clothes when you are doing some painting; avoid wearing high heels in a tree-planting event. Volunteer events are not venues to be flashy so you can leave jewelry and other valuables at home.
- Be choiceful in taking pictures. It’s okay to document the experience but keep them to minimum and maximize the time you have committed to volunteer. When taking photos, avoid taking selfies that could demean those who are in the background. Some sectors are more sensitive than others, so make sure you ask for permission before taking and sharing those pictures. When posting in social media, craft the message and focus on the story behind the image and how it can help the community.
- Never, never, ever promise. This is the most common mistake volunteers do. While there are those who would definitely follow through, most often volunteers commit to the requests of the beneficiary without considering the gravity of their response. Volunteers tend to give their word while they are ecstatic from their experience. What they do not realize is failing to deliver on the promise makes a negative impact on the beneficiary who finds hope in them. So be careful—the next time an adorable kid asks you “when are you coming back?”, reflect the level of commitment you want to invest before you answer.
By JB Tan, Volunteer & Executive Director of iVolunteer Philippines