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Successful Aging: A checklist of how and why to make volunteering fulfilling

Q I recently moved from a senior full-time position to part time and searched for a volunteer opportunity related to a passion of mine: helping people to learn to eat more healthfully. I found a nonprofit that was aligned with my interest. The only problem was that they did not know how to tap my experience, knowledge or skills. How can I find volunteer opportunities that allow me to make a real contribution?

— S.P.

A Dear S.P.:

Finding the right volunteer position is similar to a job search.

One difference is that in some instances, nonprofit organizations do not have a trained volunteer coordinator who knows how to match a potential volunteer’s interest, skills and abilities to the tasks of the organization. Clearly there are exceptions.

Additionally, the generation that is about to retire often looks for volunteer work that provides them with meaning and an opportunity to make a difference. They are looking to have an impact.

The era and appeal to volunteer for telephone trees (one person calling another to attend an event) and envelope stuffing may have passed. Although many of us do receive solicitations and invitations by mail, so clearly someone is doing that work.

The mission to have purpose in life is typical among the baby-boom generation. If they had it in their work, they may want in their volunteer life. And if they didn’t have it at work, they may seek it as a volunteer.

Part of the responsibility in finding the right volunteer position rests with the volunteer having some clarity on what is important. Next Avenue published several tips to find an ideal volunteer gig as suggested by Betsy Werley of

• Know what you have to offer: Nonprofits often need specific skills for specific projects such as fundraising, marketing, event planning and finances. Other opportunities may take the form of web designing, writing or coaching.

• Consider your true purpose: The volunteer position may enable you to do something you always wanted to do, provide an opportunity to learn and do something new. You may want to meet new people or have some structure to your week.

• Be realistic about your availability: If you travel for extensive periods or are on call for the family, you may not want to take a position that requires a significant commitment. You may want a position that offers flexibility. And don’t forget to include commute time.

• Determine where and how you want to make a difference: Consider if you want to work with a local nonprofit where you could realize immediate results from your efforts or rather prefer to work with a larger national effort where results may occur over several months or even years. The work might be virtual or face to face.

• Start with baby steps: Werley noted that each nonprofit has its own culture. Consider committing to a short-term project initially as a way to determine if the position is right for you. And if it’s not, it’s time to move on.

Check out websites that focus on skill-based volunteering. Here are a few:, and (for pro bono work). To the extent possible, try to be clear about what is important to you.


The following is a brief questionnaire that might be helpful in your planning. Answer yes or no to each item.

Do I know:

1. If I am comfortable “not being in charge?”

2. My strengths?

3. What I would like to do?

4. If I want a long-term or short-term position?

5. Where to start looking?

6. What will constitute a meaningful volunteer experience?

7. If I am comfortable using my work skills and not get paid?

8. If I want a variety of volunteer experiences or one?

9. What my spouse/mate thinks about my volunteer ideas?

10. How to interview for a volunteer position?

11. Individuals who could assist me in my search?

12. If I want to volunteer in a large or small organization?

13. If I want to do something I’ve never done before?

S.P., thank you for your question. Jan Hively, educator and social entrepreneur, has said it well: “Each of us should have the opportunity to engage in meaningful work — paid or unpaid — until our last breath.” I agree. Kudos to you for wanting to give back, and best wishes in your search.

Send emails to Helen Dennis at helendenn@gmail, or go to

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