Where should people look for opportunities to volunteer in their community?
To organizations — schools, religious bodies, the workplace, mutual societies (like Rotary or Kiwanis), neighborhood associations (like garden clubs or neighborhood watches), local chapters of national groups (like the Red Cross or the United Way), political and cause-oriented groups, and many others. Volunteering grows out of social relationships; so, people should start where they already have these relationships.
How should people consider the tradeoff between volunteering their time vs. working more and donating extra money to charity?
Both are necessary, and people should do whatever they feel most comfortable doing. The advantage of volunteering time is that one learns more about issues of importance in one’s community, or nation, and can translate that knowledge into additional kinds of commitments, as necessary. Donations help organizations accomplish their missions more effectively, but do not usually allow the donor to have the same level of knowledge of and commitment to what the organizations are doing (or not doing), as the case may be.
How can young people be motivated to volunteer?
Many ways. Some schools build volunteering into their curricula. Religious groups frequently engage young people in volunteering as part of religious education. Athletic teams, honor societies, and other kinds of youth-serving groups (like the Boy and Girl Scouts) also try to build habits of volunteering. Programs like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, as well as similar programs run by private organizations, will engage young people for one to two-year commitments, and compensate them for their expenses. Companies are increasingly organizing volunteering efforts, especially among new (and younger) employees to foster team building.
How can charitable organizations retain volunteers over time?
The most important thing they need to do is treat volunteers as valuable resources, not free labor. That means designating employees to “manage” volunteers, clearly defining assignments, thinking creatively about how to use volunteers with different kinds of skills effectively in their missions, and not least importantly, thanking them appropriately. Volunteers should feel appreciated, too.
Since persons who volunteer have higher odds of finding a job than those who don’t volunteer (due to developing new skills and expanding personal networks), should public policy promote volunteering as a labor market strategy?
In today’s economy, most people develop workplace-relevant skills in schools or other jobs. Volunteering helps, especially with what are called “soft skills” (e.g., working effectively with other people), but is no substitute for education, training and experience. Public policy already encourages volunteering, through programs like AmeriCorps, but the real value of these programs is in developing not employment skills, but rather the knowledge and habits of good citizens in a democracy. Those are important too, and arguably in short supply these days. Volunteering is less about the labor market than it is about civic engagement.
Leslie Lenkowsky is Professor Emeritus in Public Affairs and Philanthropy at Indiana University.