Northeast Ohio is like a do-gooder’s buffet. Consider Business Volunteers Unlimited’s database, which features more than 800 opportunities alone. GuideStar lists more than 11,000 nonprofit organizations in our region. With options as diverse as performing magic for sick children with Open Heart Magic, stocking Little Free Libraries with the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank or mentoring refugee families with Refugee Response, finding your benevolent calling can be tough. So, we asked local experts from Business Volunteers Unlimited and Greater Cleveland Volunteers to help us decide how best to help others.
Interests and impact
For patronage to become passion, find a cause you truly care about — no matter how big or small you perceive it to be. “What would you get up on a soapbox about?” asks Heather Englander, BVU’s director of business and community engagement. Start with your interests and ask yourself, “The world would be a better place if _____ .” Then browse an organization’s social media pages to ensure their activities fit your desires, Englander suggests.
Skills to give and get
Whether you’re a marketing expert or a heavy lifter, there’s a nonprofit seeking your talents. On the flip side, charitable work also provides a training ground for those pursuing personal and professional growth. “Something the nonprofit sector often provides for the community is training to teach new skills,” Englander says. “To learn new skills and new things helps you lead a life that is full and vibrant. Making the most of those skills gives you an overall more well-rounded life.”
Investigate before you donate
Each charity uses donations differently — but not all use it wisely. So do some research before reaching for your wallet or signing on to volunteer. GuideStar lets donors know how much of every dollar goes toward a charity’s mission and provides information on financials, board members and more. “You are empowering them to carry out their mission,” Englander says.
Time and commitment
Volunteering can fit almost any lifestyle — from the busy bee in need of a done-in-a-day experience to someone searching for a regular commitment. Dipping your toe is also a good way to find what’s right for you. “Some organizations have drop-in events where you can show up for a shift and get that flexibility,” Englander says. “To the best of your time ability, make sure that you are doing something.”
BVU’s online resources can help you better understand your “volunteer personality” to see if you’re a community builder, fit for direct service or possess a different skill set. Likewise, the staff at Greater Cleveland Volunteers is trained to play charity matchmaker based on an organization’s needs and your interests and availability. “Through these ongoing relationships with nonprofits and our staff dedicated to working with them, it helps us to recruit volunteers that can help these nonprofits develop programs, services and fulfill their mission,”says Joy Banish, executive director of Greater Cleveland Volunteers.
Show up ready
Volunteering ain’t always sunshine and rainbows. Show up with a positive attitude and expect the unexpected. “As with many things in life, sometimes things don’t go as planned,” says Banish. “Volunteers need to be flexible — go with the flow.”