Whether you’re looking for a new volunteer position for you, your family, or your child, fall is a good time of year to seek out new volunteer opportunities. IU students are back, and organizations are running extra training sessions and opening new volunteer positions for the expected influx. Bet Savich runs the City of Bloomington Volunteer Network, and was kind enough to answer some questions about how to find volunteer opportunities to match your skills and interests, and how to respect the organizations you’re working for as well.
1. Can you say a little about the Volunteer Network’s work and goals?
We mobilize volunteers to address community issues and build on community assets. Our goal is to build a strong, healthy and engaged community by connecting volunteers of all ages with opportunities to serve and by providing resources to volunteers and agencies in order to build creative and effective volunteer projects, programs and partnerships.
We have five core functions:
* Connect individuals and groups to volunteer opportunities in Bloomington and Monroe County
* Build the capacity for effective volunteering through nonprofit support, resources and professional training opportunities
* Promote and celebrate volunteerism
* Participate in strategic partnerships and initiatives to mobilize volunteers to strengthen our community. For example, for the past two years I have served on the Steering Committee of the Hoosier to Hoosier Community Sale, which re-sells the castoffs which IU students leave behind in the spring and sells them in the fall to both IU students and community members. The first year we raised about $10,000; this year about $17,000. The funds raised went primarily to United Way and Habitat for Humanity.
* Match the material needs of local nonprofit organizations with community members and businesses who can meet those needs. We do this through the Community Wish List.
2. There are a lot of volunteer opportunities out there. What are the top three things prospective volunteers should look for in an organization to help them find a good match?
* Does the work of the organization inspire passion in the volunteer?
* Does the organization do a good job of working with volunteers? (e.g., are they well managed, organized, flexible, respectful of your time?)
* Will the organization use my talents sensibly?
3. What makes a volunteer opportunity family-friendly? What should parents look for—or alternatively, look out for?
By family-friendly, I generally mean child-friendly. A family-friendly volunteer opportunity ensures a safe environment for children. There are ways for children to volunteer constructively at the same time that adults are volunteering. There are often educational components for both children and adults.
4. On the other side of things, what do organizations say is their biggest challenge related to finding and managing volunteers?
In a lot of ways, volunteers are like extremely part-time staff. Communication is often cited as the biggest challenge. It takes an incredible amount of organizational skill to manage large numbers of volunteers. For example, imagine if you had a staff of 400 people who put in 3-5 hours per week!
I’d say the biggest challenge to finding volunteers is the incredible turnover we have in Bloomington. So many people move in and move on that our local nonprofit organizations need to do continual volunteer recruitment, orientation, screening and training. One very specific challenge is the high cost of background checks, which many organizations use as a screening procedure.
5. Are there any community volunteer needs that have been difficult to meet?
Quite naturally, a number of local organizations have expanded their services to what they can do while the students are in town. When the students are on break, it’s difficult for these organizations to function at that same level. Examples include Community Kitchen, Shalom Community Center, Middle Way House, Volunteers in Medicine, Boys and Girls Clubs and the Animal Shelter.
6. What is the biggest misconception that people have about volunteering?
I’ll give you three.
* Some people think volunteering will be all-consuming, whereas in reality a lot of people just give a little bit of time.
* A lot of people think that volunteer positions are low-skilled. In reality, volunteer opportunities run the gamut from low- to high-skilled, with a large number of interesting leadership and professional positions.
* Many people think that volunteers have more time than they do. According to the Volunteering in America report (2008), on average, volunteers spend about the same amount of time on most activities as non-volunteers, they just spend less time watching TV (about an hour a day less).
7. And last, what makes you passionate about volunteering?
I love the fact that I can make a difference.
8. Anything else you want to add about the Volunteer Network?
I hope that people realize that volunteers make a lot of great stuff happen in Bloomington. You can’t just wait for someone else to do it! To see where you can contribute, go to our website, www.bloomington.in.gov/volunteer or subscribe to our weekly e-blast at http://bloomington.in.gov/weekly-update