01 July 2015

How to start volunteering or how to start a volunteering team?

If you are a person who does not have much patience or does not like going into details or wants to achieve fame or have been forced to volunteer or been ordered/forced to setup a team by someone, then stop. Do not become a volunteer. Do not start a volunteering team. Not yet. Not until you are aware of some facts.

Because volunteering is not pure fun and entertainment. It takes hard-work, knowledge building, cooperation and coordination with people who are already volunteering. Most importantly, it requires the willingness to do all this happily without hopes of becoming a hero and without hopes of receiving appreciation for what you did.

If you've seen people volunteering and feel it's fun and easy, you either missed out on a lot of details or you found a team of people who are actually non-volunteers.

Now, if you have what it takes to be a volunteer...

Step 1: Identify what you want to do and for how long you want to do it. Also, about how much time you will be able to dedicate for it in a month. Avoid the temptation to do what everyone else is doing. Most of them don't have a clue of what and why they are doing it. Instead, look around you. What social problems do you see? Write it down on a piece of paper.

Instead of doing something on your own, if you want to help someone who is already doing something worthwhile, use an internet search engine to search for volunteering opportunities near your house. Take a bike and go around your neighborhood and beyond, to find places. Once you find one place where people usually volunteer, you can ask those people if they know of any other opportunities. One hint will lead you to another and you'll finally find what you want.

Another way is to email CSR teams and ask them what they know. Search for blogs or social networking or professional networking websites where people have written about the volunteering they do, and contact them. Some of them will actually take the time to help. Else you can also contact NGO's who are into the particular field of work. People are generally very helpful.

If you don't know what you want to do, but have spare time to volunteer, use an internet search engine to know about the various volunteering opportunities. OR, see this post on Mr.Somebody Else. Be careful to not choose something you're not really interested in. Don't choose to do something just for the namesake or to become a hero. Choose it because you really want to improve the situation.

Step 2: You need knowledge. Record the information you gather. You have 2 options:
Option expert: Search for an expert who is already volunteering. Eg: If you want to teach children, you first need to learn how to teach them. There are people who can teach you. If you want to plant saplings, contact the forest department. If you want to do blood donation, contact an NGO which does it. If you see a destitute on the road, contact the Missonaries of Charity. Don't worry, it's perfectly ok to search for them on the internet, get their contact number or email from there and get in touch with them. The advantage of contacting an expert is that they will already know what mistakes not to commit; they will know exactly what areas need improvement and they will be able to address all your questions. It's very important at this stage to avoid the temptation to become a hero and try doing everything by yourself (a very immature thing to do) instead of consulting with an expert. If the expert needs helping hands, then you can inform them about your timings and comfort level and they will be happy to accomodate you. If it doesn't work out, find someone else.

Option self: If there are no experts or if the experts are not solving exactly the kind of social problem that you are trying to address, then start again, with the internet. Find out as much as you can about the subject matter. You will need to use your imagination to vary your search terms a lot for this.
The more knowledge you gain, the more confidence you will have. Sad part is, many volunteers do not take that extra step in educating themselves.

Step 3: Understand the root cause of the problem. If you are trying to address homelessness, then first find out why homelessness exists. Instead of individualizing a homeless person and theorizing why 'this person is like this', why don't you go out on the streets and live as a homeless person for a few days? See how you'd be able to survive without a credit card and keys to a warm home. The Ugly Indian group did something similar; they spent a night and a morning near a garbage dump, wrapped up in blankets, just because they wanted to find out exactly who was littering the place everyday.

Don't jump into a problem and try to solve it because it's cool. Take the time to understand it with your stomach. Find out more about it. Talk to people to get information about the problem. Ask about what anyone else has already tried to solve it. Write to people, get in touch with authorities who can help. Don't worry if some people won't help. Persistence will ensure that you find people who will help.

Step 4: Make a plan. One of the biggest reasons people stop volunteering too early or give up is because they didn't feel it was necessary to create a plan. A plan is not just about what you are going to do and how long it will take. The plan should have...

  • What creates most value to the person or area of society you are trying to help?
  • What are the main activities you will do to create that value?
  • What are the main resources you will need?
  • Which people will partner with you?
  • What kind of a relationship will you have with the people or area of society you are helping? Personal assistance? Self-service? Automated services? Community creation? Co-creation?
  • Channels of help? How will you raise awareness? How will you deliver the help?
  • Target group? Are you targeting a small area or is it more widespread or do you intend to start small and scale up once you've built a certain level of quality?
  • What are your costs going to be?
  • If you are creating products, what is your revenue going to be?
  • How will you handle disruptive volunteers?
  • How often are you going to take some rest from volunteering?

Step 5: Be the first one measure and critically evaluate your work. You have to maintain data of what you did, so that you will be able to measure what you achieved, what is remaining to be achieved and how far you have progressed. One small example is what a team did for evaluating data on blood donation. Ask others to evaluate your work too. If there are experts who can do it for you for free, you're even more lucky. Once you evaluate, you either go to step 3 or to step 6.

Step 6: Hibernate. You need rest once in a while or you'll burn out.

It is of course possible to volunteer without going into so much detail. You won't achieve much by doing that, but if you choose to do so, then at least have the decency to do it with a basic sense of responsibility.

Also, do check what you score on the Nav test < click

Happy volunteering! :-)


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