Volunteer Fit

Congratulations!  You have worked tirelessly for 35-40 years and, at last, you are anticipating retirement.  How do you feel about the prospect of retiring?  What do you want to do with your time?  How will you create a sense of meaning and purpose that energizes and excites you?

One possibility you may be considering is actively volunteering in your community.  However, you may (or may not) know how or where to begin.  This is my story about making that transition, which hopefully will help guide you in making your own retirement decisions.

Shortly after retiring, when the new chapter of my life began to reveal itself, I knew that I needed to get serious about how I wanted to spend my retirement.  Because I am a list maker, I began the process by writing down everything I like to do in my spare time. Then, I prioritized each item.  My list looked something like this:

  • Exercise daily
  • Travel extensively (U.S. and Europe)
  • Entertain friends and family
  • Participate in the arts
  • Volunteer for a worthwhile organization

Photo Credit: Rawpixel

After considering my background and identifying the skills that I wanted to use, I made a list of volunteer organizations that interested me.  Then, I literally did my homework by talking with employees and volunteers in the various organizations.

Since I taught at a university for more than 30 years, I knew that I enjoyed working with the 20-something population.  I made a list of possible community organizations that worked with people in their twenties.  When I found what I thought would be an excellent “fit,” I spoke with the volunteer coordinator, who informed me that I first needed to complete 15 hours of training.  Immediately, I was impressed.  If their leaders were willing to invest that much time in training volunteers, then working with the organization should be worthwhile.

When I arrived for my first training session, I noticed I was the youngest person in the room.  My first thought was “Am I going to fit in with the rest of the volunteers and what duties and responsibilities are expected of me?”

As I continued the training, I began to experience a sinking feeling.  I mistakenly thought I would be working face-to-face with young adults–welcoming them to my city and telling them about local events they could attend.  Instead, the job seemed to be little more than glorified housekeeping.  I knew we had a problem when the trainer said to our group, “Of course, the primary responsibilities of your job are to make sure the area is kept clean, food supplies are stocked, floors are vacuumed daily, etc.”  I literally said to myself, “YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?   This wasn’t the job I signed up for.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Since I’m not a quitter, I finished the 15-hour training session and casually asked the trainer if anyone to date had completed the training and then decided NOT to volunteer.  When she responded, “No,” I thought to myself, “I guess somebody has to be first and that person is going to be me.”

When I contacted the volunteer coordinator to tell her I changed my mind, she asked me why.  I proceeded to tell her that the duties and responsibilities were not what I expected.  The position simply wasn’t the right FIT. 

I learned so much from this experience:

  • Don’t confuse what you are trained to do with what you WANT to do.
  • Think about what you have to offer and what you are willing to do, and clearly communicate that information to the volunteer coordinator.
  • Conduct a face-to-face interview with the coordinator before making a commitment.  Include such questions as, “What are you looking for in a volunteer?  What duties and tasks would I be expected to complete?  Please tell me about the people with whom I would be working?  Who would supervise my work, and what should I know about this person?”

As I shared with you earlier, if you are willing to volunteer with an organization, you need to think carefully about what you want from the experience as well as the skills that you want to use.  Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Am I truly passionate about the organization’s mission?
  • Do my personal volunteer goals align with the organization’s goals?
  • How much time am I willing to invest in volunteering for this organization?
  • What am I interested in doing, and what are my “non-negotiables?”

The next step in the process was continuing my search, this time for the right volunteer fit.  However, sometimes the right opportunity presents itself when you’re not expecting it.  At least that’s what happened to me.

JD Mason

Photo Credit: JD Mason

About a year ago, a friend and I visited a new museum in our city called “Voices,” a multicultural center dedicated to representing cultural groups that have shaped the history of the city.  Turns out, another friend of mine was the assistant curator of the museum, so I asked if he was available to give us a tour.  Happily, he was free.  When he showed us the oral history area and talked about the facility not being “up to par,” I mentioned that I had been trained to interview people for oral histories and had contacts at the local NPR station. When his response was, “Would you consider helping us with oral histories and when can you start?,” I knew this was the right volunteer opportunity for me.  My career involved teaching at the local university, and I maintained my contacts after retiring.  Capturing oral histories involves working with local personalities in the area to tell their stories.  Interviews are videotaped at the radio station on campus.  The job would involve researching, contacting, and interviewing local people, and I could volunteer as much or as little as I wanted.  The person to whom I would report was the assistant curator himself, who is a joy to work with.  This opportunity had all the elements for which I was looking.

The moral of the story is to find the right fit.  Great volunteer opportunities rarely fall into your lap by accident.  You have to seek them out.  Be curious.  Be proactive.  Be selective.

I hope this story helps you find the best volunteer opportunity for you.  When you find the right fit, you undoubtedly will be a happy, productive volunteer.


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  1. Deborah Missal on July 3, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    Hi Eileen:

    Loved this article and your experience about finding the right fit for a volunteer opportunity. We thought you might be interested in a program that we started at the Montgomery County (Maryland) Volunteer Center called the 50+ Volunteer Network. Through personal consultations with potential volunteers and an ongoing close relationship with hundreds of nonprofit organizations in our community, we make a connection based on the volunteer’s skills and interests, and the organization’s needs. It works so well because of the exact point you make in the article. We love Boomalally (especially the name) and if you thought your readers would benefit from our experience here in Maryland we’d be happy to provide more information.

  2. Deb Gaut on August 1, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    Hi, Deborah:

    Thank you for your kind words. We’re so glad that you enjoyed Eileen’s article about Finding the Right Volunteer Fit. Sounds like the work you are doing for Montgomery County is not only important but essential for your clients. Today, I’ll email your comment directly to Eileen to ensure that the two of you can make a possible connection. Keep doing great work for your clients and community. Please join us for more great stories and inspiration from Bzine contributors. Happy August!

  3. Dawn McDonnell on August 15, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Eileen,
    I bumped into this website by accident while looking info up about Laughter- loss of it-
    Mulling over the idea of joining a class on stand up comedy. I’m new to Sarasota and I signed up for the Film festival in Sarasota 2018. Funny but your name sounds really familiar to me? I noticed your bio said Gulf Coast-
    I’m wondering if you were the Eileen I spoke with. Then I thought I got it mixed up with the rowing volunteer group at Benderson Park. I did that too. I was hot on getting some kind of contact with people since I just moved and all I was doing was fixing my new old house on a severe budget – self decorating guru- Since all our funds are tied up in kids colleges and a business. We weren’t hiring people-
    Maybe you are that Eileen? maybe not. Either way, I’m so jazzed I bumped into this website because It feels like I am meeting people even though I have not left my house!
    Good luck in all your travels and if you are the Eileen I met on the phone for volunteering then THANK YOU I met some wonderful people and it made life much more enjoyable getting out of my House!

  4. Eileen Perrigo on August 20, 2018 at 8:10 pm

    Hi Dawn!
    So glad you discovered Boomalally’s Bzine! And pleased you are connecting with people both online and in person. To answer your question and satisfy your curiosity, even though I work with plenty of volunteers in Pensacola, I probably am not the Eileen you contacted. Sorry! Best wishes to you in your quest for volunteering. And thank you for your positive thoughts about my travel adventures. Now that you have explored Bzine, consider subscribing to Boomalally’s e-newsletter at the bottom of the magazine’s homepage. Doing so will ensure that you’re one of the first to hear exciting Boomalally announcements and read additional great content. Take care! – Eileen Perrigo