Although giving money to charities has become a burden for people trying to make ends meet, Americans’ spirit for giving back hasn’t diminished. When they can’t give money, Americans are giving their time and talent to worthy causes.
With the recession and less and less people working, we thought we would see a drop in the amount of people working on volunteer projects,” says Lucy Ramirez, a spokesperson for the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. “But we’ve actually seen a lot of people who have been laid off volunteering with us.”
According to Ramirez, volunteering can be beneficial to both your community and career. Volunteers can gain life experiences and skills to prepare them for future endeavors, such as developing leadership skills, teamwork skills, understanding unique challenges and empathizing with others less fortunate, she says. “Volunteering leaves you with the satisfaction of knowing that you have helped someone,” Ramirez says. “You come away feeling different than writing a check. You are able to see your work and have the experience of connecting with an individual or a community.”
If you’re thinking about getting involved with a volunteering effort for the first time, start close to home, advises Brad Vosberg, Senior Vice President and Regional Sales Manager for First Midwest Bank. Vosberg is chairman of the Lake Area United Way Campaign, and he coordinates volunteering projects between First Midwest Bank and United Way.
“Volunteer somewhere familiar like your church, local schools or a nearby hospital,” Vosberg says. “Get started somewhere you feel comfortable.”
That search might even begin at work. Many employers sponsor or coordinate company-wide volunteering activities, so ask your employer about any new or ongoing initiatives. At First Midwest Bank, for example, employees can get involved with a number of United Way initiatives, such as regional Day of Caring activities, working at a shelter for battered women or getting involved in the United Way Young Leaders Society. In 2008, First Midwest Bank employees dedicated more than 1,320 volunteer hours to United Way-funded community agencies, and on average, each employee dedicates 192 hours per year to United Way volunteer activities. First Midwest Bank employees also can choose to donate a portion of their paychecks to United Way.
In addition to local outlets, you can also start your volunteering search online. There are a variety of Web sites out there with volunteer search available (see “Online Endeavors”).
Ultimately, volunteering gives people a chance to make a real impact in their communities. “Any time donated, even a couple of hours a month, can really make a big difference,” Vosberg says.