Living and Giving

Teen Volunteering: How Can I Get a Great Volunteer Experience?

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I recently answered some questions for TILE Financial\’s Spend Grow Give program about giving and volunteering. Tile Financial  is a bank which works with wealthy families and their children, and the Spend Grow Give program \”is an online financial environment designed to engage and educate the next generation of high net worth individuals on the benefits and responsibilities of wealth.\”  Here is an excerpt on Expert Guidance where they asked my advice on volunteering for their teens.   These are the questions some of the teens asked:

1. TILE members are often interested in finding groups to get involved with. For someone looking to volunteer for the first time, how do you suggest they go about choosing an organization?

If I had to state it quickly, I\’d say: \”Find a cause you care about, and a leader you believe in. \”  Those are two great milestones that can help ensure success with your volunteer experience.

I would really also try to understand yourself and find out first what your greatest passions are.  What is the issue you care about, such as education, poverty, the environment?  What do you enjoy doing:  Writing, working with people, detailed work/operations?  And what is the region you are most interested in, such as New Orleans, El Salvador, Africa or the neighbor across the street?

What\’s also important is the size of the organization. Would you like to work in a larger organization that may have more resources, but less flexibility? Or a smaller, entrepreneurial organization that has less support, but multiple opportunities to get involved?

Most importantly, I\’d find a good personal fit. Leadership is so important. Find a cause you care about, and a leader you believe in. That\’s always a great start!

2. Someone once complained to me that it\’s hard to find an organization that will assign volunteer tasks other than \”clean out the broom closet.\” Is this true in your experience and what tips do you have to avoid such situations?

It\’s important that you find an opportunity that provides a good chance to grow and contribute.  I\’d try to meet with the leader or volunteer manager to make sure it\’s a good fit.  Are they open, willing to give you opportunities, warm, friendly, outgoing?  Do you see yourself enjoying your day working with them? Then most likely you will have a positive relationship where you can ask to be involved in areas you care about.  They will want to see you grow and develop, and you will want to help them.  It\’s a \’win-win\’ for everyone, each helping another.

It is important to realize, too, that we all have to jump in.  I\’m CEO, but I still send faxes, too. 🙂  I try to teach my team that a \’fax is never a fax.\’  As I was faxing, I told my team member, this is not just about a piece of paper going through a machine. This particular fax was our contract with Cisco, which allows us to pay salaries at our nonprofit. So it is important to do the small, detailed tasks, and connect them in to higher meaning.  Everything works together for good;  everything is important. Can you try to find the meaning, and see how you can serve? All leaders appreciate wonderful attitudes of a sincere desire to serve.  If you work sincerely at creating a service-minded attitude, a kind demeanor, and make an impact, they will want to help you, too. 

3. What\’s the best advice you would give to your teenage self?

Be open. Surprise yourself.  You may find you are interested in something you never considered!   Go for your dreams and goals, and realize that every experience helps you learn something, and contribute something.  Sometimes it will feel great! Othertimes you might not enjoy it as much, but try to commit to serving, learning and growing. That will lead you to the next wonderful step on your journey.

4. How can young people play an important role in the changing philanthropic landscape?

Young people have such energy and a genuine desire to change the world now.  There is no waiting for them. I love that you are jumping in to make a personal impact now rather than \’waiting until you are financially successful,\’ which I think many have done in the past.

Since most of you are so involved with Web 2.0 and social media, I love your input on how you use Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and the like in your communications. How can we integrate philanthropy and volunteerism more into these areas?  What are you ideas on how we can use Web 2.0 to truly change our world? 

Equally important, how are you using these communications to create relationships with your peers across the world, in different countries?  For that is where true change will come, from building trusting relationships, one-on-one, amongst people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, race and religion.  This relationship building leads to greater \’world trust\’ — based on honest, heartfelt communications and actions — which then results in world peace.  You all are leading this cause for greater peace, simply by your generation\’s desire to communicate, connect and care. We appreciate who you are, and what you are doing to create these positive relationships.