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The Joy of Volunteering Part 4 — Getting the Most from Volunteering
June 22, 2017

View the video transcript in English [PDF 186kB].

By Mimshach Obioha, 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow, and Celestina Obiekea, YALI Regional Leadership Center West Africa–Accra Participant

As we noted in a previous post, an excellent way to appreciate the business of volunteering is to first understand how to get the best out of every volunteering experience, and this is what we will be looking at in this section.

Before you volunteer you should keep an open mind. This is a very important principle in every endeavour, especially when foraying into a new field. The advantage of always keeping an open mind is that you open yourself up to new ideas, knowledge and insights and you are able to see things from new and interesting perspectives. In fact, this is not only important during this phase but throughout all phases of your volunteer experience. At the same time, you should identify and set your goals. The mistake a lot of people make is that they fail to identify their reasons for going into any endeavour. As a result, they fail to identify and set goals for themselves in that particular endeavour. Before deciding on any volunteer experience, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why am I interested in volunteering in the first place?
  • What is this particular volunteering position/experience about and how can it help me achieve my short- or long-term career and learning goals?
  • What skills do I possess presently and how can they be applied in this volunteer experience?
  • What new skills do I hope to get from this volunteer experience?

After answering these questions honestly, you should be able to write down a six- to 10-line summary of your objective for wanting a particular volunteer experience and the goal(s) you aim to achieve. Something really simple, as in the example below, should give you a good start:

I find that my weekends are often very free and usually boring; I would like to get involved in some activity to keep my mind and body occupied during the weekend and, if possible, learn something new.

I have always loved talking and I would like to spend some time exercising and sharpening my speaking skills.

Perhaps being a contributor on a weekend radio programme will be a good way for me to put my skills to good use and at the same time sharpen my public speaking skills.

Have specific expectations and make sure they are realistic.

A lot of young people do not think that they should have expectations in any job experience, especially if it is a volunteering role — this is so wrong! In fact, one of the very first things to do is to define your expectations — you need to decide how far you are willing to go and what you hope to get from the whole experience. For example, some volunteer roles will come with stipends to take care of things like transportation and feeding while some will not. Given the African reality where it is still strange to tell people you are doing a job and not getting paid for it, it may be necessary to decide how much of your personal resources you are willing to expend during your time volunteering. Beyond setting expectations and determining how far you are willing to go, it is also very important that you are very realistic about these expectations and limits. For example, if you can only spare an hour or two in a day for the role, be realistic about that and state it clearly;if you cannot afford to cover your own expenses on the job, be realistic and state it clearly. One rule of thumb we always use is, “Under-promise and over-deliver!”

Do your research and choose wisely.

Doing research about the different volunteer options available to you at a particular time helps you come to a decision about which of them tie in to your goals and objectives and helps you in choosing eventually. Skipping this step often results in making a decision based on factors other than logic and may eventually deter you from your goals and objectives.