Finding the Right Place
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How to Find an Organization or Create Your Own Project

Okay, you know what you like to do and what you're good at. You've figured out what type of cause you want to get involved with and what's possible given your age, location and schedule. You even know that something can be done about even the most horrific crisis, if you join with others and/or an organization to make a contribution. Now, all that's left is to find an organization to work for. If you are planning to start your own volunteer project or organization, you can learn more about this process. However, I will begin by talking about how to go about finding an organization to work for, then move on to starting your own project and lastly, starting your own organization. After that, I will tell you a little about social activism and close with a list of directories and books where you can find even more information about volunteering and places to volunteer. Be sure to check out next month's Monthly Matter, "Organizations to Get Involved With". It will list over 200 organizations, their purpose and contact information. If you are looking for a place to volunteer but can't figure out where, next month's Monthly Matter is for you.

Finding A Place to Volunteer

These days there seems to be fewer people with time, energy and money to spare for an effort but everyone of every age and nationality needs to get involved with a cause. In order to do the most good, you will want to select a volunteer activity and an organization that best suits you. After discovering the benefits of volunteering in April's Monthly Matter and answering a series of questions to learn what type of volunteer work will best suit you in March's Monthly Matter, this month's Monthly Matter will help you to find places where you might look for volunteer information, and efforts you may undertake alone or with family and friends. If you have a hard time finding places to volunteer on your own do not become discouraged, next month's Monthly Matter will list terrific organizations to volunteer with

For an idea of where to begin, read on!

Where To Look

To discover what's out there, you can start by looking in the government section of your local phone book. The telephone book list government agencies that fight for all types of causes. If a particular agency you're interested in doesn't use volunteers, they may be able to give you information about one that does.

If you have access to the internet, surf on-line. Type in the word "volunteer" or a word related to a particular cause of interest to you and search.

Networking is another great way to learn about organizations who are in need of volunteers. Talking to friends, family and business associates, is one of the easiest and most reliable ways to investigate organizations. When you know people, even if it is through a formal relationship, you get a sense of what's important to them, both positive and negative.

Networking works in many ways. It often occurs naturally, but you can encourage it to happen. If your parents are, or were, involved in volunteering, ask them about their experiences. Ask everyone from your brothers and sisters to co-workers, from business associates to acquaintances. If you know a leader, a director, or a board member of an organization, don't hesitate to ask that person for information and advice. Also, don't be afraid to talk to people you don't know. Whenever someone is doing something that sparks your interest, get them to tell you more. Many people go about their lives without ever mentioning their volunteer jobs. So, in order to find out you'd have to ask.

Another place you can look is with companies. Many have community service programs. If they don't, the public relations or human resources office may have information about companies they work with informally. Check with the company you work for. They may have these kind of ties and some of your co-workers/associates and their families may be involved.

A potential danger to the networking approach is that sometimes you can take on others enthusiasm as your own. Enjoy others passion about an organization or cause but be careful! Use networking to introduce you to groups and programs, but be sure your evaluation of them is all your own.

Of course, if you belong to a religious organization, ask members about community service. Many churches, synagogues, and mosques have community outreach programs.

You can even learn about short volunteer opportunities through the radio, tv announcements, newspaper ads, newsletters, posters placed in grocery stores and in other public places. You can ask the health organizations in your area when they'll need more help throughout the year. Leave your name and phone number with organizations so that they can contact you as opportunities become available. Feel free to say "no" or "yes" to which ever you choose. When the need for a special opportunity arises that sounds interesting to you, try it.

Other Sources

Here are other sources that can provide you with help in your search for the best service assignment and organization:

Volunteer Centers

Volunteer centers, voluntary action centers, or volunteer bureaus advocate for volunteerism in their communities. They provide education and support for volunteer efforts and act as central clearinghouses for local volunteer opportunities. There are more than 350 volunteer centers operating in the nation. These centers serve over one hundred thousand private organizations and public agencies. To find a volunteer center in your area, look in the White Pages under "Volunteer" or "Voluntary". You can also check the Yellow Pages under "Social Services" or "Community Organizations".

United Way Offices

United Way has over 200 chapters in the country. They match individuals with volunteer oppurtunities in their communities.

Public Libraries

Libraries have many helpful reference books you can use to research organizations. Ask a librarian for a local or regional directory of non-profit or social service agencies.

Municipal Offices

The mayor's office, some of the various offices in your city townhall or community center are likely to have directories or a list of local service organizations. You can also attend town or city council meetings to become more aware of organizations and happenings in your community.

Local Court and Criminal Justice System

More and more judical systems need volunteers in counseling and rehabilitation programs. You can find your local court or criminal justice system in the Yellow Pages.

Local Businesses

Chamber of commerce, businesses, consumer councils and individual manufacturers, merchants and bankers have opinions about problems in the community and the best ways to solve them. Talking with your community's business leaders can help you identify volunteer opportunities or create some.


You can also find what opportunities are available in your community by calling local hospitals, the school system, the community affairs office, churches and synagogues with community outreach programs or just look around your neighborhood to see what needs to be done and how you can make a difference.

Questions To Think About

These questions will guide you in your search of the best volunteer assignment and organization for you:
1. What's the agency's mission and philosophy?
2. Do you agree with it?
3. How is the organization supported?
4. How does the group relate to the community?
5. How does the agency recruit it's volunteers and board members?
6. Who are the agency's paid staff?
7. How is fund-raising done?
8. How does the agency benefit the community?
9. Who are the organization's clients, if any?
10. What needs or problems does the organization address?
11. How is the agency structured?
12. What is the proportion of paid staff to volunteers?
13. Is the organization well managed?
14. Who's in charge?
15. How are decisions made?
16. How dynamic or productive is the organization?
17. In general, what is expected of volunteers?
18. What would be expected of you?
19. What responsibilities would you assume?
20. What is required for performing a particular task?
21. How much decision making is required of volunteers?
22. Are volunteers trained?
23. What kind of training is provided?
24. What topics are cover in training?
25. How much training is offered?
26. What are the possibilities for taking on more responsibility and for advancement?
27. What is the criteria for board membership?
After pondering these questions, ask yourself:
28. Am I still intersted in volunteering?
29. Am I still interested in helping this organization?

Start Your Own Volunteer Project

What if you can not find exactly what you want at an organization or you just don't want to work for an organization? Maybe you'd prefer to create your own project. You can start a project that is backed by an organization or run it totally by yourself. Either way, it can be very successful.

Before you start your own project you will need to decide:
Who you want to help?
What do you want to change?
How will you accomplish your goals?
How much time will you spend on your project?
When do you expect for your project to be completed?
Will you work alone or with others?
Will you need help from and established organization?

1. Getting Started - For the most success, start with something simple. Focus on a single, local issue. Local projects will be easier to handle and more successful.

2. Pick an Issue or Cause - Use one of the causes listed in April's Monthly Matter. If you prefer, choose one that affects you in some way or one you have been wanting to support. Be sure it is an issue you REALLY care about. Develop a plan and set a specific goal. Also, if you are considering asking others to get involved, be sure that it is a cause they also care about.

3. Get Informed About Your Cause - Gather information about your issue. You can find information at the library, on the internet, from related volunteer organizations and from other people.

4. Assembling a Volunteer Team - Some projects work well as individual projects. The work can be done from start to finish alone. Other projects require help from other people. In this case, build a team of volunteers that can help make your dream a reality. When putting your team together, think about each person's skills and abilities. Include people with all kinds of talents and skills. That way someone will be able to handle every need and situation.

To find help just ask: your family and friends, people you know at school and/or work, if you belong to any groups ask people to join in, ask your minister or pastor to make an announcement about your project at service and to encourage congregation members to help.

If you will need lots of people to help with your project, you can contact the staff at your local newspaper, radio station or televison station. Ask them to join. You can even get politicians involved like your council members, the mayor or even your representative in congress or the senate.

5. Come Up with Ideas - Brainstorming is a great way to come up with ideas for your project. Remember to pick a project that will help your cause and that will have a good chance of being successful.

6. Making Others Aware of Your Project - Making your project know is very important. There are many ways to spread the word about your plans. The best and easiest way is to tell people yourself! Tell everyone you know and ask them to tell everyone they know. You can put announcements in stores, churches, community centers, and schools. Be sure to ask for permission first! You can even hand out stacks of flyers or distribute stacks of flyers to friends and family and ask them to give them to their friends, which is another form of networking. This is one of the best ways to make things known and find others with similar interests.

When making flyers be sure to include: what your project is about, exactly what others can do to help, your name, your project's name and a phone number and/or e-mail address where you can be reached".

7. Getting Media Attention - A great way to spread the word about your project is to obtain media exposure. Small broadcasting stations and community newspapers welcome news about local citizens. Contact the media and tell them about your project. They may interview you and run a story about you and your project. A story about your project could reach hundreds or even thousands of people. The more people that know about your project, the more successful it will be.

8. Obtaining $$$$$ for Your Project - Sometimes money is needed for a project or raising funds may be a part of it. You can raise money and donate it to an organization that needs it. You may need money for the cost of materials for your project. There are several ways to obtain the funds you need for your project: sale goods, sale used books (donate your own things and ask others to donate things too), tag sale, sale commercial goods like candy or stationery, or sale a service (car wash, lawn care, snow shoveling, a talent show).

You can ask for donations for your project. Sometimes people , small businesses and large companies will give money to a good cause. Also, try applying for a grant. They offer large amounts of money but can be hard to get. But if you need a lot of money for your project, it's worth the try.

Start Your Own Organization/Group

If there is not an existing organization or group that addresses the problem or cause you're interested in, organize your own or your own local chapter of an existing organization. Suggestions for doing so: 1. Find others who share your interest, 2. Pick people who are energetic and reliable, 3. Put your organization's purpose in writing, 4. Start small, 5. Sensibly assign responsibility, 6. Spread the word, 7. Let the press know what you're doing, 8. Get support from local businesses and 9. Get advice and information from existing organizations.

Social Activism

If you are crazy about volunteering and want to do something more, think about being a social activist. It's easy and it's something both adults and kids can do. Social activism is volunteering taken to the next level. A social activist works to solve problems around the world. They organize people, raise money and plan projects that tackle issues of nationwide and global concern.

Social activist are very important to the world of volunteering. The civil rights movement, the women's movement and the environmental movement were started by social activist. Social activist are everywhere doing everything to make things better for us all.

To become a social activist all you need is a desire to help others, a willingness to work and the ability to gather others together to join your cause. Again, kids CAN be social activist too. It's never to early to start.

Doing your own volunteer project or starting your own volunteer group is fun. Working a volunteer job is also rewarding. No matter what you do, your efforts are importat. The world needs people like you.

Check It Out: Directories and Book


Encyclopedia of Associations. Gale Research Co., Annual.
list 24,0000 national and international organizations.

The Telephone Directory
Includes various categories of volunteer organizations

Volunteer!. Council on International Educational Exchanges, 1984
A regularly revised, multi-volume guide of all types of oportunities for volunteer service, organized by categories.

Books for Further Reading and More Information

160 Ways to Help the World: Community Service Projects for Young People by Linda Leeb Duper, 1996

Teenagers and Volunteerism by Kathlyn Gay, 1997

Lend a Hand: The How, Where and Why of Volunteering by Sara Gilbert, 1998

The Big Help Book: 365 Ways You Can Make a Difference by Volunteering by Alan Goodman, 1994

What Would We Do Without You? A Guide to Volunteer Activities for Kids by Kathy Henderson, 1990

How to Make the World a Better Place: 116 Ways You Can Make a Difference by Jeffrey Hollender and Linda Catling, 1995

The Kids Can Help Book by Susanne Logan, 1992

150 Ways Teen Can Make a Difference by Marizan Salzman and Teresa Reisgies, 1991

A Student's Guide to Volunteering: Do the Right Thing by Theresa DeGeronimo, 1995

Kid's Volunteering Book: The Kid's Guide to Service Projects by Barbara A. Lewis, 1995

The Kid's Guide to Social Action by Barbara A Lewis, 1991

Girls Guide: Get Involved! A Girls Guide to Volunteering by Erin Hovanec, 1991

Volunteerism edited by Frank McGuckin, 1998

Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community by Max DePree, 1997

Befriending: The American Samaritans edited by Monica Dickens and Carlton Jackson, 1996

The Volunteer Recruitment and Membership Development Book by Susan J. Ellis, 1996

From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Volunteer Programs Success by Susan J. Ellis, Jeffrey D. Kahn and Alan S. Glazer, 1996

Volunteerism in Geriatric Settings edited by Vera S. Jackson, 1996

Better Than Money Can Buy: The New Volunteers complied by Joseph Kilpatrick and Sanford Daniziger, 1996

Volunteer America: A Comprehensive National Guide for Service, Training and Work Experience edited by Harriet Clyde Kipps, 1997

Alternatives to the Peace Corps: A Directory of Third World and U.S. Volunteer Opportunities edited by Phil Lowenthal, Stephanie Tarniff and Lisa David, 1996

The Halo Effect: How Volunteering Can Lead to a More Fulfilling Life - And a Better Career by John Raynolds with Gene Stone, 1998

NOTE: As always, this is not a complete list of ways to start your own volunteer project or organization. Nor is it a complete list of ideas for volunteering and ways to find volunteer opportunities. This is only a list of information that I have put together to get more people interested and involved in volunteering. There's more information out there. All you have to do is look for it. Let me know what you think and tell me what type of volunteer activities you are involved with. E-mail me at or leave a message on the cork board. Next month's Monthly Matter will be "Organizations to Get Involved With". see you then!

---Catherine C. McPhearson-Jackson