Questions to Ask Before You Volunteer

Tips to Match Your Skills with a Worthy Cause

Oklahoma has seen its share of disasters in recent years and standing out the most during these trying times was the generosity, compassion and tireless work of those who have come from near and far to volunteer their time.

Without a doubt, Americans love to volunteer their time to a worthy cause. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 26.5 percent of Americans, about 64.5 million people, volunteered at least once last year. With an annual volunteer rate of 29.3 percent and more than 800,000 volunteers serving 92.5 million total hours per year, Oklahoma ranks 20th in the nation for volunteering, according to a recent report by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

This time of year brings out the generosity and giving spirit of others. Many feel the need to volunteer their time in their local community at food banks, shelters and other types of charities. Before making any decisions, the OSCPA recommends asking important questions.

Ask yourself...
Your goal is to know if this volunteer opportunity is the right one for you. Before committing to a new volunteer opportunity, first think about the following:

  • What are my interests? Maybe you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity that dovetails with your education, or perhaps there’s a cause near and dear to your heart. Decide where your interests lie to help narrow down your options.
  • What are my skills? Maybe you’re good at teaching or at gardening. Think about your strengths and then seek out organizations that need your special skills.
  • What do I want out of this experience? Volunteering makes you feel good, but is there another way you’d benefit as well? For example, helping someone learn to read may also help you down the road if you are considering a career in education. Many volunteer opportunities can help you boost your own skills while giving back to the community.
  • How will I work volunteering into my schedule? While you’re not a paid employee, people will be counting on you to show up and do a good job. Make sure you’re not overcommitting yourself by taking on this new opportunity.
  • Does location matter? Consider if you prefer to be in an office, classroom or outdoors.
  • How will I be affected by this experience? Some volunteer opportunities may take you to disaster areas or bring you into contact with people who have experienced some kind of crisis. Ask yourself if you are ready to handle these situations.

Ask the organization…
Once you’re ready to start talking to a specific organization, use the following to help develop a big-picture view of the organization and your role as a volunteer:

  • How old is the organization? What is its mission?
  • Who will volunteer projects benefit? What are the goals of the projects?
  • How are volunteers matched to projects, both in terms of skills and interest?
  • Is there a need for the skills and experience I can bring to the project?
  • How is the organization funded?
  • What is my volunteer position? What tasks will I be doing? Make sure the tasks are within your physical abilities.
  • What kind of training and/or orientation will I receive?
  • Are there any particular tools or project supplies I should bring with me?
  • What would my hours be? (Or, how much of my time are you requesting?)
  • Are there any security or health concerns I should know about?
  • What is the timeline for the volunteer project or position?
  • How much of the work is performed by volunteers versus the organization’s employees? While volunteers are a vital part of many charities, there are times work should be performed, or at least supervised, by a paid employee. Ask what kinds of tasks will be assigned and make sure you’re comfortable with what you’ll be doing.
  • Is there a fee to volunteer? Be wary if an organization asks you to pay them in order to volunteer.
  • Is there an expectation of a financial commitment to the organization? Some nonprofit organizations expect board members (and perhaps other volunteers) to make annual contributions.
  • Are volunteers (especially board members) covered by appropriate liability insurance coverage? You certainly don’t want to volunteer your time to an organization if there are any uninsured liability risks.

Take these items into consideration, as well…
If you would like to get involved with an organization, but can’t make a long-term commitment, remember that even occasional efforts are appreciated.
Donating blood, helping deliver meals or reading to children at the library are all worthwhile activities you could do on an as-needed basis.

Before committing to an organization, do your homework. Learn as much as you can about the organization and its efforts. If it seems like the right place for you, take the first step and contact them.

Many people have dreams of helping others, but job commitments can often hold them back. A CPA can help you create a financial plan to make your volunteer aspirations a reality. For more money tips, visit www.KnowWhatCounts.org, where you can sign up for a free e-newsletter, try out financial calculators or ask a CPA a question. Visit www.FindYourCPA.com for a free CPA referral and free 30-minute consultation.

LAST UPDATED 12/10/2013

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