The Benefits of Long-Term Volunteering

Volunteering was the name of the game for School Nutrition’s annual personal development issue (January 2020). Deciding the “right” volunteer gig that match your interests, skills and availability can be an obstacle in getting started—there are so many opportunities that you can pursue! In this exclusive web extra, we’ll take a look at the benefits of making a long-term commitment to a single organization and/or role.

Long-term volunteer roles take many forms. They might include, for example, serving in a leadership position with your state affiliate school nutrition association, mentoring a student, leading a Girl or Boy Scout troop, teaching a semester-long course or pledging to work a foodbank shift at least once a month. The common denominator is that you are making a commitment that lasts longer than a matter of hours or a single weekend. Why might this type of obligation be right for you? Here are a few good reasons.

  • The benefits of structure. Knowing the when, where and what of a regular volunteer gig can make it easier for some people to make the commitment in the first place. It eliminates the paralysis and procrastination that can ensue when there are too many considerations in determining the “ideal” conditions for volunteering. The structure allows you to schedule the rest of your life around the volunteer commitment. You know in advance to leave two hours free every Tuesday evening to teach literacy or English language skills or that you will be committed on March 2 for an advisory council meeting or that the museum expects you to be at the information desk on the third Saturday of every month.
  • Understanding the mission. School Nutrition readers know that it can take years to fully understand the intricacies of this profession. The same is true for many other endeavors, especially those that rely on a corps of volunteers. Whether it’s related to animal welfare, performing arts, mentoring, managing a place of worship or otherwise, the organization that seeks your volunteer help has very individual complexities and quirks; learning them in a way that makes your assistance truly valuable takes longer than one day of volunteering can allow. If this is a project you’re passionate about, it’s worthwhile to dive into the weeds and get to know those nuances.
  • Skills growth. You might start volunteering with an organization in one role, but once you’ve shown yourself to be reliable and capable, a charity could ask you to dip your toes into another facet of volunteering. For example, if you started helping out with ushering at a local theatre but have a love of sewing, too, you might find yourself backstage working on costumes. Trying something new can be intimidating, even in a volunteer capacity where expectations may be lowered. But it’s precisely because expectations are lowered that you may feel more comfortable and encouraged to step out of your comfort zone. You may discover that you are enjoying invaluable skills growth and personal development that open new doors to you as a volunteer and even, possibly, in your professional life.
  • Satisfaction with making an impact. When you volunteer for an afternoon event, you are certainly making a difference—but it’s not always easy to feel like you did that much to advance a cause or have an impact. If it’s an important volunteering priority to gain those warm, fuzzy feelings of having a meaningful effect, there’s no better way than to immerse yourself into an organization as a long-term volunteer.
  • Leadership experience. Not everyone wants to be a leader, but if you’re the type of person who likes to rise to the top, a volunteer organization is just the place to provide that entry and experience. The longer you stay with the organization, the more natural it feels to climb the ladder as long as you feel comfortable—perhaps you will even run it someday!
  • The relationships. Forging relationships with other people who are equally passionate about the same cause may be the best benefit of long-term volunteer commitments. The longer you stay with an organization, the more people you’ll meet and the deeper those relationships will grow. You never know—your next best friend just might be ready to join the project, too. 

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2900 S. Quincy Street, Suite 700
Arlington, VA 22206
servicecenter@schoolnutrition.org  

Tel (703) 824-3000
Fax (703) 824-3015

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