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People volunteer for many reasons: to benefit others and their communities, to stay active after retirement, to learn new skills and more. These days, more people seem to be seeking volunteer opportunities for slightly different reasons. Facing tough economic times, some are turning to volunteerism to supplement or replace monetary donations to worthy causes. Other new volunteers are laid off workers looking at ways to network and keep their skills current.
Volunteer organizations across the nation are reporting increased interest from the public. Dozens of Web sites exist for the sole purpose of connecting interested volunteers with organizations that need them. Other organizations turn to classified ads and other means to recruit help.
But, many rewarding volunteer opportunities are never submitted to Web sites or advertised in print. Organizations with no money for promotion or who have few opportunities to offer may rely on word-of-mouth to find the help they need. These opportunities often are very rewarding because they allow you to volunteer with someone you already know, but sometimes also because other people may know you and what you can contribute better than you do.
Just like with a job search, if you want to find the volunteer opportunity that has the most to offer you while giving you a chance to contribute to a meaningful cause, you have to look beyond the classifieds and the Web sites. You have to network, get your name and skills out there for others to see and sell yourself as a volunteer.
Let others know that you are interested in volunteering. Ask them if they know of opportunities that may be good for you, or if they would keep their eyes open for you. Be ready to show the skills you can contribute and talk about additional skills you'd like to develop through your efforts. Prepare a volunteer résumé you can give them that describes what you're looking for and what you have to offer. List previous volunteer work, as well as paid work.
Opportunity comes from necessity, so many chances to volunteer can be had from identifying a need and offering to help fill it. Many organizations in your community may not actively be seeking volunteers, but could benefit from your help nonetheless. Call around to churches, schools, local government offices, fraternal organizations, even local small businesses to see if they could use a hand.
Finally, don't take "no" for an answer. Keep in touch with all the organizations you'd like to serve. Ask if they have identified any new needs since you last spoke with them. Update them on what you've been doing and any new skills you have developed. Keeping in touch will help you build a network that eventually will connect you to the opportunity that's perfect for you.