Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to find a cause you love and get involved

[Photo by hobynye]

You probably see my many posts on Facebook and Twitter about Dress for Success Miami - that's my cause. Volunteering and getting involved with a cause is a great way to help others, meet new people and add some life into your work/life balance.

But where do you start? There are thousands of causes out there, all with good intentions. How do you select the one that's right for you? First, think about the following:

Your heartstrings
What pulls at you? It could be injustice, poverty, animal welfare, homelessness or any number of things. But if you are going to spend time and energy in cause, choose one that you feel personally drawn to.

Your experience
What have you done or been through that can help others? Perhaps your days as a food server in college can be channeled in a soup kitchen. It could even be a match of professional skills – I started volunteering with Dress for Success Miami by offering communications, writing and marketing services pro bono (and I still do).

Your time
Be realistic here – how much time can you commit to helping out? Is it once a week? Once a month? For certain events? It could even be taking on administrative projects you can do on your own time or in your own home. Knowing this beforehand will keep you from getting in too deep too fast and not enjoying the experience.

Now that you've picked a cause, ask around or do a search on Volunteer Match or Idealist to find an organization close to you. Contact them to get an overview of the organization and get to know the people running the place. If your gut doesn't feel good about it, it might not be the right organization for you, but don't get discouraged.

Some easy ways to get involved:
  • Volunteer. Most nonprofits, especially local ones, have more demand than capacity. Find out how you can help out as a volunteer, whether it's helping deliver services (like mentoring or tutoring), staffing events (a personal favorite of mine), doing manual labor (think Habitat for Humanity) or helping out in the office (like data entry or answering phones).
  • Donate/Fundraise. Time is valuable, yes, but some things do require money. Can you donate some funds? You can even help organize a fundraiser or 
  • Pro bono services. If their needs fit your professional expertise, consider offering pro bono services. This is common for areas such as public relations, accounting and legal services. It helps to define a scope and set some expectations.
What does it mean to be on a nonprofit board of directors?
To be honest, I knew very little about nonprofit boards before I joined one. First and foremost, board members serve as ambassadors for a cause – representing the organization, spreading word about their good works and building relationships and good will. Most nonprofit boards also provide financial oversight and accountability for the organization. For philanthropic nonprofits, such as charities, arts organizations and those that thrive on donations, a large part of a board member's duties will include fundraising.

Are you involved in a nonprofit or volunteer cause? How did you pick one and how are you involved?


  1. i think that while a lot of people really like the idea of volunteering, they're just not proactive enough to do a lot of research in finding one. but libraries and coffee shops usually have bulletin boards where you can easily find some good orgs to help out. so be sure to check those out next time you go.

    (btw, this is third time in two weeks i've tried posting a comment for this post!!)

    1. I agree - people tend to get stuck when there's extra effort involved. I think that's also why it's so important for those of us who are involved in volunteering to ask our friends. That also takes the guess work out of finding something on your own.

      BOO I don't know why it always gives you trouble. I did recently add the code thingy (was getting 15-20 spam comments a day).

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