Whether it’s picking up litter, battling climate change, ending poverty or promoting issues of female empowerment, there is no shortage of ways you can get involved and help support a good cause and who knows you might even develop a career out of it. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations out there that are working to change the world; but the only problem is, there may be so many that it’s tough to narrow your focus and find which one is best for you to support. Fortunately for you though, other people have had this problem too (the times we live in!) and now there are ways to get around the issue.
Non-profits and non-governmental organizations want you to find them, so many of them are adding their information to online databases that help sort and track the work of charity groups. If you’re trying to figure out what social causes to support, read through the following guide. We guarantee that by the time you’ve read through it, you’ll have figured out what your calling truly is.
1. Make a List of the Causes That Matter to you
When you’re debating a topic or having a heated conversation with friends, what topics are most likely to come up? What really gets you going? To find a social cause that works for you, often the best place to start is with what’s in your heart. Take a look at the bumper stickers, t-shirts or Facebook postings you’ve shared lately. Do they have to do with any particular cause? For example, you may find that you’ve been posting a lot about animal cruelty or animal adoption. If it’s showing up on your feed, then obviously it’s something that matters to you. Start by making a list based on that review of your interests and passions.
2. Use Online Resources to Narrow Down Options
Once you have some idea of the causes or topics that matter to you, move onto an online search, that will help you narrow down what’s available in your area. Local causes will be easiest for you to support, since you’ll be able to show up for local events and volunteer your time in person. Of course you don’t have to limit yourself to local causes. Plenty of non-governmental organizations do work in international locations, and they, too, are always looking for financial and online support, as well as volunteers to come help them on-site. If you choose that route though, be aware that you’ll typically be required to pay your own way to get to the international location, while sometimes you’ll also be required to pay a fee to participate in the program. In exchange though, you’ll get a rich volunteer and cultural experience that will be memorable, which will also look great on your resume.
A host of organizations’ websites will help you start narrowing down causes. Sites to check out include Idealist, Charity Navigator, VolunteerMatch, Network for Good and Global Volunteer Network. Most of these sites allow you to search for causes using keywords, geographical locations or other criteria. When you get the results, the sites will typically give you information about each organization, including the work the organization does, its budget, the amount spent on administration costs versus actual service, and other important details that can help you get a sense of what they do and why they’re worth supporting. If you’re looking to make a financial contribution and not to physically volunteer, then this may be important information for you, so make sure you go through it carefully.
However, if you’re planning to spend your time physically volunteering then make sure you sort your preferences by the amount of time you have to spend, where you want to do your service, the types of volunteer work you’re interested in doing, and so on.
Jot down the contact information for a few organizations that appear to suit your interests, or link directly to the organization’s website to get even more information and to contact them directly. Sometimes, the response you get from an organization is enough to help you decide whether or not to support them. If you’re looking for a personal experience where you get to work one-on-one with people, getting a personal email response from the organization may help you feel welcomed and involved.
3. Get Recommendations
Once you have a sense of the organizations that are doing the work you’re interested in, talk to people you know who might have heard of that organization. Some organizations will look good online and they might provide all of the "right" information on their website, but in practice, they may be dysfunctional or otherwise undesirable. Therefore it might be a good idea to ask for feedback from people who have worked with the organization that you’re hoping to partner with. So don’t be shy, ask around, either via email, or via social media. While you’re at it, ask for other recommendations for organizations doing similar work. If you’re a student, you might also ask your professors or teachers for recommendations.
If you hear back from someone who’s already volunteered with that organization, ask them what they did with the organization, their impressions of the work the organization is doing, and whether they’d recommend that you volunteer with that organization as well. If they say that you absolutely must and that that’s the organization to volunteer for, also ask if that person can put you in contact with the right people at the organization. Larger organizations have a lot of people contacting them for volunteering opportunities, and without that personal connection, it may take some time on their behalf to match you with a group or task that you can actually do. By making that personal connection, you may get started faster.
4. Take Part in a Community Event
If you’ve found some organizations that you’re interested in working with, you don’t have to take the plunge and start volunteering on a regular basis right away. Many organizations host community events or larger events aimed at helping you get to know them. Look for street fairs, neighborhood cleanups, care days or other events the organization might be planning, which can give you a sense of the organization without making a big commitment. Schools, community centers and local governments or agencies may also be partners with local non-profits, so check your local community calendars or local newspaper’s event calendar listings for information about upcoming events.
5. Commit to a Small Thing
Likewise, you can also participate by doing small things before you commit to a cause in a more long-term manner. Some organizations need drop-in volunteers all the time, which can be a great way to get involved without a huge commitment. Local homeless shelters may need helpers for cooking or cleanup. A neighborhood church may need help distributing food to the elderly. An international NGO may need help sorting mail or passing out flyers.
If you’re asked to make a longer-term commitment, let the organizers know that you’re trying to determine whether this is the thing you want to be doing, and that you need some time to feel it out. If you feel pressured to do more right off the bat or you otherwise feel uncomfortable, you can always walk away.
6. Give Some Feedback Back
Once you’ve found a cause that you want to support, start out slow so you don’t get burned out by too much volunteering. Share your experiences with your friends and family online or in person, and tell them about what you’re doing. Sometimes, sharing your story will inspire others to join you, or could even lead to recommendations for another like-minded organization that suits you even better.
If you find that one organization or one cause is not to your liking, don’t worry, there are plenty of other options out there. Just go back to your original list, perform another search, and get other recommendations from friends and family, and start the process again. You got this!