3 Steps to Finding Meaningful Volunteer Work
A successful professional shares tips for making your off-work hours matter.
Chris Schwarz first heard about Snowball Express, a Texas-based national nonprofit that serves children who have lost a parent on active military duty, from a friend who chaired the organization. “I heard the story of what they do and said ‘I’m in,’” recalls Schwarz, an accountant and graduate of St. Edward’s University who runs his own firm.
Schwarz began as volunteer CFO, joined the board within a year and now serves as vice chair. “The work we do helps these kids more than years in therapy, their parents tell me over and over again,” he says. “Being able to put a smile on a child’s face who might not have had reason to smile in a long, long time — that’s why I stay involved.”
Here, Schwarz shares three steps for finding meaningful volunteer work — and making time for it.
Identify a cause you’re passionate about — and learn more about the organizations in your area that serve that cause. What is their mission? How do they spend their money? What do their volunteers do? How are they rated by watchdogs like GuideStar, CharityWatch and Charity Navigator? “You can learn a lot with just a basic Internet search,” says Schwarz. “When top positions are held by volunteers, or when 96 cents of every dollar goes right to the people who need it, you know the nonprofit is in it for the right reasons.”
Once you find a group you feel confident volunteering for, “go for it,” says Schwarz. Sign up for a volunteer orientation. Let the staff know about skills or talents that might benefit the group. Can you produce a newsletter, organize archived files, update a website or renovate office space, for example? Establish a set time each week or month when you will volunteer and stick with it. Mark the organization’s major events, like an annual golf tournament or clothing donation drive, on your calendar and try to build in a few extra volunteer hours during those busy times.
“You have to find something you’re passionate about, something that grabs hold of your heart,” says Schwarz. And if the first charity you picked doesn’t fit the bill, try anther one, he advises. “Sometimes it takes two or three tries — just keep looking.”
Also make sure you’ve set aside adequate time for work and family. “As a small business owner, I get to prioritize my time,” he says, “but how I do that impacts my ability to support my family financially and emotionally. I want to be present for them, just like I want to be there for the kids Snowball helps.”
It’s a balancing act, he says, but “everybody has the time — you just have to manage it.”
Graduate degrees from St. Edward’s University prepare you for both your career and your life. Our programs challenge and empower you to discover your full potential and apply your knowledge in ways that make a difference in your world.
Stacia Hernstrom MLA ’05 is a writer for St. Edward’s University.
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