To check out my April 2012 Activism goals, CLICK HERE.
Non-profits and charities need money, there’s no question. They need to pay for their rent, utilities, supplies, and small permanent staffs somehow, and since they’re in it for others and not for themselves, they are not money-making ventures by design. This means they need to seek funds from the general public, or major philanthropists, to make ends meet and get their important work done. So, if you’ve got money to spare, and have a cause you’re passionate about, by all means, cut them a check. Nine times out of ten, you can deduct that donation on your taxes, and you will have given the organization of your choice a very important resource.
However, many of us (especially in this economy) don’t have a lot of money to give to all of the causes that matter to us. What we do have, what we can always find, no matter how busy we are, is time, and extra, volunteer hands on deck are as important as extra funds to an organization. Too often, non-profits and charities can’t afford to hire huge staffs to do everything that needs doing. The donations they receive are just enough to keep the lights on, but not enough to hire employees, or to pay people for their time for special events. So, one of the most important things you can do if you care about something, is to figure out if and how you can donate some of your time.
If you don’t have a lot of time, most organizations have a mailing list. Sign up, and be alerted to specific opportunities when they might need you. For example, the photo up above is from the National Equality March in D.C. I marched with an organization called SWISH, a gay-straight alliance that works toward achieving equality for LGBT people. When I was living in New York, I was working a day job, and didn’t have very many free hours to do extensive volunteering, but when I got the call for volunteers to march one weekend in DC, I signed up! Sometimes, especially if the cause you’re interested in is political in nature, numbers are all-important, and having extra bodies present at an event or rally goes a long way toward getting the organization press and showing whoever’s watching just how many people support whatever cause it is. The Westboro Baptist Church was also at that rally, and they had about 50 people there. There were over a million people there in favor of equality. Just goes to show how important volunteers can be! I guess not many people want to volunteer for the WBC. I wonder why? :)
Organizations like GivLA exist for the sole purpose of matching kind-hearted people up with one-time volunteering opportunities, helping organizations meet their volunteer needs while encouraging caring citizens to help out, and helping them be social at the same time!
Full-time, Committed Volunteering
If you really want to roll up your sleeves and help, there are plenty of organizations who could use you on a more long-term basis. For example, back in NYC, I was a mentor through iMentor, and was paired up with a high school junior in the Bronx named Mariah. I mentored her for two years – being generally encouraging, answering her questions, helping her with homework, setting a good example – meeting with her once or twice a month, corresponding weekly via email, and it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Mariah and I are now Facebook friends as she navigates the choppy waters of college. :)
Here in L.A, since helping girls excel and making sure children have decent writing training under their belts are equally important to me, I’m applying to be a mentor with WriteGirl, an organization that pairs professional writers with high school girls who are aspiring writers to help them find their voices and give them professional guidance. WriteGirl has a sister organization in NYC, which is how I found out about them in the first place, called Girls Write Now.
Stuff like mentoring requires a firm time commitment. However, it’s usually something pretty much anyone can work around, with commitments being weekly, or once a month, or on weekends.
Volunteering From Home
Don’t wanna leave the comfort of your own home? Look into opportunities to volunteer remotely! For example, Kiva is an organization that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve loaned money through them, but I can’t personally make a million loans. However, something else I can contribute is my knowledge of Spanish! I’m signing up to be a volunteer translator, so that when they receive blurbs from clients in Spanish-speaking countries for their website, I can translate them for English speakers. (PS – I’ve been putting off taking my qualifying test for this because it takes an hour. However, I’m scheduling an hour for tomorrow so that I can just do it already!) Once accepted, I will be able to access the blurbs that need translating from home and work at my own pace. They have a six month commitment period, but over the course of that six month period, you can “work” whenever you want. So flexible! And it’s something they need, as their entire operation is based on their website. If blurbs aren’t translated, people don’t give to clients.
So, there’s no such thing as “not having the time!” and “not having the money” matters less than you think. If you care about something, there’s always a way to get involved. Start by making a list of the Top Five things that are most important to you. Look up organizations in your area that cater to those causes. Contact them and ask them about opportunities to volunteer that fit your schedule and lifestyle. Chances are, they will more than appreciate the outreach, and will be able to find something for you to do.
Or, if the task of doing this research seems too daunting to you, leave your Top 5 in the comments below, as well as the city you’re in, and I’ll do the research for you! Let me know what you care about, and I’ll help you show how much you care in a way that won’t break your bank or drive you crazy in a special Activism video here at the blog! Looking forward to creating a volunteering army! :)