Tis the Season of Volunteering

The holidays are quickly approaching, which means volunteering is on the rise.  Whether you're planning the office holiday party, or just looking to volunteer with your team before the end of the year, the holiday season provides numerous opportunities to gather your colleagues and make an impact in the community.
While volunteering during the holidays can make you feel warm and fuzzy, it isn’t always so simple.  According to data compiled by HandsOn Connect, last year nonprofits saw a 42 percent increase in volunteer inquiries during the holiday season, compared to the rest of the year.
Since most nonprofits experience a surge of volunteer requests in November and December, holiday volunteer shifts may fill up weeks in advance.  At Open Arms of Minnesota, we provide our clients with a complete Thanksgiving Meal delivered to their doorsteps on Thanksgiving morning.  We typically open Thanksgiving Day volunteer shifts 2 months in advance, and historically Thanksgiving Day delivery routes fill within 72 hours of posting.
The good news is that there are still plenty of November and December volunteer opportunities available, but people should be flexible and open to trying a new volunteer activity.  Maybe you had hoped to sort toys, but the nonprofit really needs your help folding & stuffing letters; or maybe you had dreams of serving a warm meal on Thanksgiving, but instead the nonprofit has asked you to wash dishes or fold laundry.  These are all great ways to serve and support the community – so be receptive to these kinds of activities.  Nonprofits need all kinds of help and support to meet their client’s needs.
Also, keep in mind that volunteering costs money.  At Open Arms, we request a $500 donation for all group kitchen shifts during the months of November and December.  Open Arms provides all kitchen ingredients, supplies and training, so the $500 donation helps offset the cost of ingredients & packaging for the meal preparations.  Some groups are discouraged by the required donation during these 2 months and reply, “isn’t our time enough?”  To be honest, unfortunately not – not at this time of year when individuals in our community are struggling to make ends meet while also experiencing a life-threatening illness.  Meeting increased needs requires time and money. This combination of resources during the holidays allows us to bring cheer and peace to our clients who are experiencing a life-threatening illness, but we couldn’t do it on volunteer time alone.
Finally, if you find that all the November & December volunteer shifts are full at your favorite nonprofit, I guarantee they would love your help after the holidays!  Once January 1st rolls around, the influx of volunteers tends to taper as quickly as it rushed in.  Consider organizing your group volunteer project after the New Year or making regular volunteering part of your New Year’s resolutions. Nonprofits need just as much help throughout the year, especially during the summer when students are on vacation and regular corporate volunteers go on vacation.