By Donna Marsh
Leadership Seacoast Communications Consultant

During the Leadership Seacoast 2014 graduation ceremony, each class member declared out-loud to their classmates, friends, colleagues, and family, exactly how they were going to make a difference in their communities in the coming months. I was motivated by their commitment.

One graduate, Travis Thompson, announced he would complete a minimum of 300 hours of service, participate in four service events, and donate a minimum of 68 items to the End 68 Hours of Hunger campaign.

Inspired, I set a goal for the summer that I would volunteer with my three children, ages 13, 10 and 7, at a local nonprofit where we could make a difference.

My intensions were good: To get my kids out of their sheltered existence and introduce them to community service.

My process needed improvement.

Like so many people when they set out to get involved in their communities, I stumbled to map out exactly what my volunteer engagement would look like. Who would we work with, how would we make a difference, what would we do?

You see, by stating specific and measurable outcomes of the commitment – 300 hours, four services events, 68 items– and identifying the organization, Travis greatly increased the chances of reaching his goal.

So here we are with the start of the school year closing in, and I am embarrassed to say that II am still trying to figure out what I can do with my kids to get them started in the world of volunteering.

I contacted Robin Albert, Director of the Volunteer Action Center United Way of the Greater Seacoast. Robin is a highly respected leader in the Seacoast non-profit world; she offered these easy steps to get started.

  1. Make a list of causes that are of interest to you. Are you worried about the schools in your area? Homelessness? Poverty? Drug abuse? The handicapped? The elderly? Honing in on what you are most interested in will help you identify where to launch your plan and who to contact.
  2. Determine how much time you have to give and what you want to do. Be realistic about your life demands and how many hours/days a month you have to devote to volunteering. When you begin researching organizations that might need your help, you’ll be most likely to find the right one for you if you know what your life/schedule allows and if you are certain about the activities you want to do.
    For example, if you are interested in alleviating poverty but not comfortable working in a soup kitchen, think about other ways you can use your skills. Are you good with numbers? Are you a marketing professional? Many nonprofits need board members with skills like these. See below for a list of web sites that might be useful in your search.
  3. Reach out to some of these organizations. In your initial email or phone call, be up front about what you are interested in doing and how much time you have to give. Provide contact information and follow up a week or two after initial contact.
  4. Conduct the process like a job search. Set goals and measure yourself against them. Consider setting a target of 5 contacts in a month in the nonprofit world who you can talk with about opportunities that match your skills. If you set tangible goals, you’ll be more likely to make measurable progress – and a difference in your community.

Start mapping out your plan by checking out these websites. Then tell us in the comment section below, what you will do in the coming months to make a difference in your community.