FREE SPEECH ZONE | Give Back in 2011; Five Tips for Volunteering


Donating your time to a charity is in many ways similar to deciding to make a cash donation. You want to know that the charity you’re considering is accountable and will use your time and talent effectively.  If you’ve made giving back part of your New Year’s resolutions, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) recommends taking five steps to make sure your volunteering has a big impact.

 Much of the great work that charities perform is made possible because of volunteers and the number of people giving their time continues to grow. According to the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 63.4 million people volunteered for an organization in 2009, or 26.4 percent of the US population.

 “Charities are always looking for volunteers to help the community and those in need,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB. “Volunteering can be an extremely rewarding experience, but you want to be sure to do your research when you donate your time, just as if you were giving money.”

 The BBB Wise Giving Alliance recommends taking the five following steps to make sure your time and energy are put to great use as a volunteer:

 Identify your skills. Volunteering opportunities are available for any skill level. Consider what you’re good at and what services you’d be particularly well-equipped to provide. From stuffing envelopes to construction to providing pro bono legal advice, you can find a good fit regardless of your education or talents. 

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Consider your passions.  Maximize your enthusiasm for volunteering by finding an issue that resonates with your own personal passions. If you’re a runner, consider a marathon fundraiser. If you like history, look for opportunities to help out at an archeological dig.  By indentifying your passions, you’re more likely to stay engaged with the charity and be a more effective volunteer. 

Determine your availability.  Make a realistic estimate of how much time you’re willing to give. Maybe it’s just a weekend of picking up trash at a park, a week of building schools in a foreign country or maybe you’re willing to make a long-term commitment to tutoring someone to read. It’s better to volunteer the amount of time you can reasonably handle, rather than drop out in the middle of a longer commitment.

Research the charity thoroughly. Just as you would before making a cash donation, research the charity fully before you volunteer to make sure the organization has a commitment to standards and accountability. You can view BBB Wise Giving Alliance evaluations on nationally-soliciting charities for free at

Commit to stick with it.  According to an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, more than one third of those who volunteer one year don’t volunteer anywhere the following year. Even if your early attempts at volunteering weren’t a good fit, keep at it and look for new opportunities to give back. In a tough economy, charities need the support of volunteers more than ever.

Following are just a few sites that list volunteer openings: 

For more advice on volunteering and to view charity evaluations on nationally-soliciting organizations, visit 

The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to promote, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill public confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, protect and assist the general public. Our hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.