Please Volunteer January – October

It’s very tempting to volunteer during the holiday season (November and December), but unless you already have a tradition/regular gig, I strongly encourage you to create a new tradition and volunteer January-October since

  • It’s much less hectic at local charities during the non-holidays.
  • You’re generally needed more at other times of year, particularly winter and summer when people are away on vacation.
  • You will enjoy the experience if you’re able to focus on it rather than squeezing it in among your many “to do’s.”

Throughout the year, PMD organizes one-time opportunities for you to “test drive” different volunteer activities if you’re unsure where to start.

More than 80% of the partner charities we help have no ongoing volunteer programs or dedicated staff to run their own, ongoing volunteer programs, so you will be helping where you’re really needed.

PMD is much more than a clearinghouse.

If you volunteer for a few PMD projects a year, it’s tempting to focus on the tasks for these isolated activities, not what PMD is doing throughout the year. (The PMD board and project manager volunteers govern and lead year ’round, so they have a better sense of this bigger picture.) Plus, PMD annual appeals (and I when I’m planning a service project) focus on direct services and details, like feeding the needy and helping the illiterate through specific, ordered steps.
PMD is much more than a clearinghouse (or an online database), connecting volunteers with existing service opportunities. PMD plans the tasks, amasses the tools and materials needed, as well as recruits, prepares, orients, and manages the volunteers who participate in service projects that serve 2/3 of the charities with which PMD partners, since these charities have no ongoing volunteer programs with staff and resources to support them–with these limitations, the 20+ charities PMD serves annually cannot engage volunteers effectively.

PMD also mobilizes its volunteer recruitment tools (i.e., web site, email list, blog, and Facebook Group and Cause) to assist established volunteer programs at the remaining 1/3 charities (~10/yr) when they have seasonal volunteer shortages. PMD is building awareness of these neediest times so that people will develop new volunteer traditions beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Furthermore, PMD sees its service projects as opportunities to help all programs improve their volunteer programs by more effectively engaging episodic/one-time volunteers. PMD has collaborated to produce Standards of Excellence for individual volunteers, group leaders, and charities to clarify key elements that contribute to mutually successful volunteer experiences for the faith-based community and others, and provided targeted, pro bono training (see 11/22/08 blog post) and consulting services to help established volunteer programs near (like the National Braille Press behind Boston’s Symphony Hall) and far (like RightRides For Women’s Safety in NYC) adapt specific strategies that PMD has developed during its 16 years engaging nearly 4,000 volunteers and 23 businesses who have directly helped 109 charities and their clients.

Holiday volunteering onslaught begins

As some of you know, PMD has been receiving inquiries from well-intentioned people seeking volunteer opportunities for their families on Thanksgiving and Christmas, to my chagrin, since PMD pretty much promotes volunteering on any day of the year EXCEPT these hectic and overly popular holidays.

However, PMD is advertising that volunteers of all ages are needed on Christmas Eve Day, Monday 12/24, to sing carols and to prep and serve hearty appetizers 2:30-5:00 PM to cheer up a small group of frail, formerly homeless elders who are now permanently housed in Boston’s South End. (We organized a much longer Thanksgiving meal preparation for them on 11/18.)

In lieu of volunteering to help strangers on a hectic holiday flooded by too many volunteers, too little work, and small spaces, consider volunteering on non-holidays when you are needed more, OR include isolated neighbors and colleagues in your family’s traditional gatherings (or just for dessert) on the holidays themselves, OR do something that a charity says it needs, like collect specific, needed items, and deliver them. (See PMD’s Answers to FAQs.)

To avoid my holiday grumpiness, please note that I am not aware of local charities seeking volunteers to serve meals on Christmas. (Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly seeks people to deliver meals and visit elders in the late morning.) Charities’ regular volunteers can usually handle holiday meals–and guests tend to prefer to be served by people they know rather than strangers. Plus, there is the matter of the criminal history record checks that are taking in excess of 10 business days this time of year. (Read my past blog entries about CORI checks and confusion.)

If you must volunteer at a shelter, group home, or the like, I strongly recommend gently contacting volunteer coordinators at local shelters to see whether they need help on “lesser” holidays when they tend to be understaffed and post-holiday morale may be low, such as Boxing Day (12/26), New Year’s Eve (12/31), New Year’s Day (1/1), Martin Luther King Day (PMD has an easy and fun project on 1/21/08), the day AFTER Thanksgiving, and the summer time (when their core volunteers and college students take vacations). Be gentle-they are likely hearing from orders-of-magnitude-more volunteers than they can place in their programs on Christmas, and we, of course, want them to focus on their guests and the people who will definitely be volunteering, rather than distracted and stressed by the sheer volume of demanding messages from those who they cannot match/place, right?

There is an art to finding a good match between your needs and interests and those of the recipient charity and its clients. I regard this as a lifelong process, much like finding a profession/job that one loves, as your needs and interests evolve and as you learn more about people, charities, and their needs. Hopefully, volunteering with PMD throughout the year will help you “survey” the charity scene so you can get to know a few charities beyond their web sites.

For example, last month when PMD turned 15 years old, I heard from someone who volunteered with PMD nearly two years ago. She wrote:
I only did one activity with PMD and that was to help make lunch at the Women’s Lunch Place. It was such a positive experience for me though that I have been making donations of clothing and sundries and other supplies along with money to the WLP ever since.

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