Today’s guest post is from Aniya Wells.
People who are passionate about helping others are unique in that they are able to see solutions to problems. Society, however, sometimes makes it easy to ignore or overlook problems like poverty, homelessness and hunger.
When confronted with these issues, certain special people ask, “What can I do to help?”
Sometimes, there are huge organizations that are already working on solutions. Other times, we notice things that no one else is talking about. If you see a problem, you can help be the solution. All it takes is a pinch of creativity, a lot of elbow grease and a few friends who are passionate about helping.
When I was in high school, I began a volunteer organization called Getting Involved and Volunteering (GIV). After pitching the idea to my school principal, GIV launched. Our major fundraiser provided entire Thanksgiving dinners for a dozen disadvantaged families in our county.
During college, there were plenty of options for volunteering; but I was busy with working and studying. I was working with elementary-aged children at a juvenile therapeutic center when I was inspired to start another volunteer group to promote literacy and strengthen reading skills among the youngest kids.
Both of the volunteer groups presented unique challenges and honed my leadership skills. I went into each project completely fueled with passion, with no background in organizing or teaching, so I had a lot of room to grow.
Know the Costs
I started GIV during the fall of my senior year. Luckily, I had an energetic and creative teacher who was able to guide me through the financial aspects of preparing for a fundraiser. We decided that a haunted house would be an excellent fundraiser, but we would need money to cover the costs of creating it. We launched a mini-fundraiser by “selling” dates to the Homecoming dance.
With the money we raised from the Homecoming dance, we bought supplies for the haunted house. It was labor intensive, and it required an entire cast. Once the big night finally arrived, we had a blast! During Halloween, we raised over $1,000 which was a lot for a few high school students.
Unlike GIV, I started the literacy program with no official support. All of the supplies came out of my own pocket; but it was something I could afford to give, especially considering the children had little in the way of possessions or library access.
For formal nonprofit organizations, grants are available. Read more about starting a 501c3.
Consider your Limitations
Even if you want to save the world, you have to accept the fact that you aren’t Superman (or Wonderwoman) and neither are your fellow volunteers.
There are a few things you can do alone. For example, I was able to create summer reading classes for the kids. However, I also needed volunteers to help teach basic skills during the week. I had really high expectations for my volunteers, but sometimes their schedules and other obligations would provide hiccups.
As a leader, especially of volunteers, it’s important to be aware of your expectations and how they contrast with your team’s capabilities. Chances are both of you will have to adjust.
Be Aware of the Risks
During cleanup of our haunted house project, I fell out of a moving vehicle. I received staples in my scalp and had to shave some of my hair. (No lie.) The kids at the therapeutic facility were also socially unpredictable, and sometimes would display aggressive behavior. One of my volunteers was stabbed in the hand with a pencil and subsequently quit.
Also, be aware that your volunteers could be responsible for any damage or injuries they cause. Risk training and other types of education may be needed to ensure volunteers are working safely. Formal organizations may want to purchase insurance to protect against possible damages.
Accidents are uncommon, but they do happen. Being prepared is the best way to handle any setback confidently. Preparing for the unexpected could mean taking a lesson in conflict management (like I did when working with violent kids) or simply wearing a seat belt. If you are in high school, ask your principal about any forms that will renounce liability. Those who are out of high school should operate within the boundaries of other organizing institutions or should apply for nonprofit status.
Aniya Wells is one of the most passionate writers you’ll ever meet. Though her writing interests run the gamut—from personal finance to health to current events and more—her primary interest is modern higher education. She serves as a reliable online degree guide for students considering taking advantage of the conveniences inherent in distance learning. Don’t hesitate to contact Aniya for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.