By Paula Redmann

Time is fleeting. Time is precious. There’s only so much of it. Even the changing of our clocks to “spring forward” or “fall back” can be unnerving, knowing we’re losing (boo) or gaining (yay) an hour of time.
Time dictates our lives and we are bound to it. There are kid’s schedules to meet, errands to run, families to see, friends to greet, and then there’s that thing called work. Yet there’s a tug in our souls to lend a hand, share a skill, and pitch in. Volunteers make the world a better place; and organizations, nonprofits, schools, and churches rely on additional hands and feet to help with both big and little tasks.  
Do you have time to spare? Before you commit yourself to a group, an organization, or a board, consider these tips in sharing your valuable time.

Match your interests. What puts a smile on your face? Do you love working with children, older adults, animals? Why not pair your interests with your passion? Be a volunteer reader at a school. Check out options to help at any assisted living residence or nursing home. Walk a dog at an animal shelter or foster one in your home. Pair your interest with something that speaks to your heart so that it’s a delightful time for both you and the recipient. You’re sure to be more committed if you believe in the cause. There are organizations all around waiting for you.

  • Match your availability. Just exactly how much time do you have to give? Are you willing to commit one to two hours a week for a nonprofit organization? Be sure that the hours you want to give fit into your schedule. Maybe you’re thinking about the leadership side of sharing your time and want to be on a board of directors or leadership team for an organization you admire. Heads up: you may be committing yourself to a three-year term, or even longer if you choose to become a board officer. It would be wise to seek a defined role for yourself and be fully aware of what is expected of you as a board member. Knowing these things before you get too far down the volunteer path will alleviate any misunderstandings. You don’t want to overcommit, whether it’s two hours or two years, or both parties could end up disappointed.
  • Match your talents. Are you a wizard with a spreadsheet? Can you organize an event in your sleep? Can you sell ice cubes in Alaska? Consider your skills and gifts and put them to work so it really doesn’t seem like work at all. There are organizations always looking for help in budgeting and finance, and many groups are raising funds for a worthy project. It’s a win-win to pair your skills with community involvement. Maybe you can be a virtual volunteer and do good works directly from home, on your own time and schedule.  On the flip side of this, perhaps you’d like to share your valuable time and learn something new, gain practical experience, and add a new skill to your repertoire. Many organizations are willing to train a volunteer. It might be nice to spice up your everyday routine and try some tasks outside your comfort zone. It forces you to learn and adjust. Scary, perhaps, but the good scary, not the bad scary.
  • Match your friends and family. If you’ve determined that any ounce of time you have should be circled back and devoted to your family, there are plenty of opportunities in front of you. Do you have a sports kid? Be a coach. Do you have a theater kid? Sew some costumes (or hot glue that ribbon on the hat; whatever works) or hand out programs on the night of the big show. Do you have a kitchen kid? Bake cookies for the nurses working on Christmas. Do you long for more time with girlfriends, guy friends, other couples, or your own kids? Talk about common interests (see tip number one), and go help as a group. Being a volunteer has its own reward, but it shouldn’t feel like a chore, either. It’s okay to have some fun when you’re sharing your time. The experience can bring everyone together, pull people in the same direction, create memories, and teach your children the value of sharing and caring.
  • Match expectations. Don’t be offended if your willingness to share time takes time. Many organizations need to be very careful in accepting volunteers. Sometimes applications, interviews, and background checks need to be completed.  Organizations dealing with children and other at-risk populations have legal considerations with volunteers.

And finally, remember to know your place as a volunteer. You may have your own ideas on how things should REALLY be done but respect the process and your role in it. You don’t necessarily have to volunteer your opinion. You want to share your time cheerfully and sensibly. The only required tools are your heart and your enthusiasm.   

Paula Redmann is the Community Relations Manager for Bismarck Parks and Recreation District. She married her high school sweetheart, Tom. They have two grown sons, Alex and Max.