I have been volunteering my entire life, and am often asked where and how to start. Having volunteered thousands of hours on everything from fundraising to building houses to political campaigns to picking up trash in my neighborhood - it all matters. Since there are so many opportunities, it's good to find something you will enjoy while you are making the world a better place.
The best place to start is with a cause you care about and are interested in. There are great tools like Volunteer Match that link you to current needs. The City and County of San Francisco's website listing volunteer opportunities includes opportunities with Recreation and Parks. HandsOn Bay Area works with 50+ innovative companies to create custom volunteering events for 18,000+ employees.
The time commitment required is a big consideration. Having served on five boards, I can attest to the fact that each board is like having another full-time job. You're also not just giving your time, but you are typically responsible for raising and giving money when you serve on a board. You are responsible for the leadership and oversight of an organization. It's a large commitment.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I volunteered in roles that helped build my self-confidence. I ushered theater performances, symphonies, and opera. Ushering prevents the organization from having to spend limited resources on paid staff, and it gives you an opportunity to meet people, see a performance, and contribute to the community and the arts. Ushering led to a seven-year volunteer role as a docent, where I gave tours of the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix prior to its renovation and grand re-opening in 1997.
Junior Achievement and big brother/big sister programs provide mentorship opportunties. In my early twenties, I had the opportunity to teach seventh-graders how to start a business, market themselves, and give back to the community. I was able to speak from experience about the differences between working for a Fortune 500 company and owning your own small business.
Event committees are a great way to learn more about an organization before making a larger commitment. Event production is typically a year-long project, and there are plenty of opportunities to help with the planning and execution, as well as for the day-of-only if your time is limited. Since moving to San Francisco in 2002, I have volunteered on and chaired more than 50 event committees. It is how I created my network.
Build days with Habitat for Humanity are an excellent hands-on experience if you like labor and the joy of seeing the tangible outcome. When I began selling real estate with Coldwell Banker ten years ago, I was our office liaison and was responsible for organizing our group build days and fundraising efforts. It was a terrific experience. I've been attempting to schedule another build day recently, and they are booked months in advance.
My colleague and friend, Nick Cooper founded Home for a Home, an organization building homes for low-income families in Guatemala, which is amazing. They raise the money, and then fly to Central America and physically build the houses. I tend to focus on our local community, but if you're making a positive difference anywhere, keep doing it!
It's important to do your due diligence. I've had one bad experience in 40 years of volunteering. Though it's not going to prevent me from giving back, I'm certainly more careful where I give my time and money as well as what roles I take on.
I have served as a volunteer Precinct Inspector in the last five elections. It's one long day of volunteering, but with the right team, it goes by quickly, and as a poll worker you're ensuring that our democracy functions as intended on Election Day.
Northern Neighbors organizes neighborhood cleanup days every month, and I've participated in both cleanups this year. One originated at Lafayette Park, and the other at Alta Plaza Park. It's a two-hour shift and Northern Neighbors provides tools, maps, and coffee. Refuse Refuse is a citywide grassroots volunteer effort dedicated to trash-free neighborhoods.
San Francisco Village is an intergenerational community that brings younger volunteers together with older members to learn from and care for each other. Curry Senior Center provides seniors wellness, dignity, and independence. Larkin Street Youth Services is dedicated to ending youth homelessness. They eliminate barriers so young people can flourish. You can volunteer with the SF SPCA. As the largest animal welfare organization on the West Coast, the San Francisco SPCA relies on the assistance of caring, hardworking volunteers in all our programs. The San Francisco Zoo has opportunities for volunteers of all ages with a sincere interest in animals and conservation. Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is powered by volunteers.
There are so many opportunities to contribute to our community, and you'll have a great time doing it. Please let me know if I can connect you to any of the groups mentioned above, or if there is another organization you have questions about, or would like to recommend. Thank you for volunteering! -- Jack