[Olivia Vanderwal is an English Literature graduate and short fiction writer living in Hamilton. She is an aspiring novelist, world traveler, and professional student. You can find her at booksandwordsandthings.blogspot.ca and @vanderwalrus on Twitter]
I’ve been a volunteer with the Hamilton Arts Council for the past seven months. In that time, I’ve helped with setup and promotion during Supercrawl, organized and participated in the Hamilton Literary Awards, written countless media updates and calls for entry, sent out dozens of emails to local artists and organizations, and, most recently, become a member of the Hamilton Literary Committee. I say this not to showcase all the work we do here, but to share the many opportunities I have had to network and grow within my city.
Volunteering is such an integral part of the non-profit sector, and whether you’re an individual or a larger organization, there are certainly many factors to seek out when considering or evaluating a role. There are, I think, three components required for a successful and meaningful volunteer experience: trust, passion, and engagement.
In order to be effective in the work you’re doing, your organization needs to trust in your commitment and your effort – that is, they need to give you a certain amount of freedom in order to get things done. On the flip side, you as an individual need to trust that the organization you’re working for is using your time effectively and providing a positive and supportive environment.
It’s also important to be passionate about the organization you’re volunteering with and the work you’re doing. This is what drives volunteers and what makes them so valuable – they are motivated to do their best not because they expect anything in return but because they simply love what they do. And when people are passionate, they are also more productive and more invested.
Lastly, volunteering requires engagement. To really find meaning in the work you’re doing, you need to connect not only with the organization but the community at large. At its best, volunteering is about serving the people around you. If possible, seek out the individuals and families who you are working to help, talk with them and see the ways you and your organization are making a difference.
So this week, I hope you will consider these factors, as a current or soon-to-be volunteer. And please remember to take the time to thank the many volunteers around you!
For more information on National Volunteer Week, you can visit https://volunteer.ca/nvw2016.