Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
This FAQ consists of frequently asked questions about volunteer opportunities in the San Francisco Bay Area.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is the quickest and simplest way to volunteer or find out about volunteer opportunities?
What are other sources of information about volunteering?
My schedule is uncertain. Are there many spur of the moment opportunities?
My job or other circumstances make it difficult for me to commit on a regular basis.
I thrive on variety. What about short term or one time only opportunities?
I prefer working one-on-one with an individual and developing a relationship on a more personal level. Any suggestions?
I’m interested in working with animals. Suggestions?
How can I make use of or develop my computer related skills?
What sorts of opportunities exist with environmental oriented organizations?
I’d like to volunteer to help out in local and national disasters (floods, earthquakes, etc.) throughout the United States. How do I go about this?
What’s it like going to help out on a national disaster with the American Red Cross?
Any helpful hints for successful volunteering?
1. What is the quickest and simplest way to volunteer or find out about volunteer opportunities?
Check out the Bay Area Volunteer Information Center www.volunteerinfo.org where thousands of volunteer opportunities with over 500 Bay Area nonprofits can be researched.
You can search by area of interest, geographical preference, and other categories to bring up links to appropriate nonprofits. Also, all local Volunteer Centers are listed at the bottom of the main page and these centers provide information about available volunter opportunities. You might also do a Google search with the words volunteer, (your
area of interest), and (geographical location)to bring up more opportunities.
2. What are other sources of information about volunteering?
Newspapers are a good source but not nearly as productive as using the internet. Most newspapers, including small locals, have a Calendar or Neighborhood section with a Volunteer heading listing specific needs (sometimes short term) of local organizations.
Also, if you come across an article about the activities of a local group that interests you, give them a call – there is a good chance they could use volunteer help.
Your place of work is often an excellent source. Many employers encourage their employees to volunteer in their communities, sometimes on company time, and have already established relationships with local nonprofits. This is especially true of large companies such as Sun, Intel, and Apple to name only a few. Contact your company’s human affairs or human resources office.
3. My schedule is uncertain. Are there many spur of the moment opportunities?
While many organizations need to know in advance how many volunteers to expect (to schedule transportation, work loads, etc.), many activities are not so particular. Food sorting at food banks, gleaning (picking fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste or were missed by mechanical harvesting), trail restoration, etc., often work on “the more the merrier” basis. Don’t hesitate to call at the last minute for most any volunteer project, you may be needed to take the place of someone who cancelled at the last moment.
4. My job or other circumstances make it difficult for me to commit on a regular basis. Furthermore, I thrive on variety. What about short term or one time only opportunities?
No problem. Most Volunteer Centers and websites have a list of special events needing volunteers for only a day, evening, or weekend. These range from being an usher to setting up for special events.
5. I prefer working one-on-one with an individual and developing a relationship on a more personal level. Any suggestions?
You might try calling one of the Big Brother / Big Sister and similar organizations. They have several different programs and are looking for individuals or couples who have about four hours twice a month to share with young people. How about regularly serving or delivering meals to the elderly?
Or, how about helping someone learn to read? Search under literacy to find several organizations needing mentors for about 2 hours per week (you set the times) for a six month period.
Among the benefits of volunteering are the satisfying personal relationships that develop as a result of sustained interaction with nearly any project.
6. I’m interested in working with animals. Suggestions?
C.A.R.E (Companion Animal Rescue Effort) in the Bay Area needs volunteers to help place homeless animals, and your local Humane Society needs volunteers in several areas including adoption, special events, kennel help, and care for young or sick animals. Work with guide dogs, there is even an organization devoted to care for rabbits!
7. How can I make use of or develop my computer related skills?
SVPAL (Silicon Valley Public Access Link) is dedicated to making the world’s information resources accessible to all people living in the Silicon Valley regardless of financial status and educational level. A huge number of nonprofits can use IT assistance.
The Computer Recycling Center needs volunteers to repair IBM and Mac computers that will be donated to schools, as well as office help.
Mentor with nonprofits, schools, public agencies, libraries, and youth training programs, all of which need computer assistance.
8. What sorts of opportunities exist with environmental oriented organizations?
The Environmental Volunteers share their love of nature and science with over 19,000 children in the elementary schools of San Mateo and Santa Clara. Hidden Villa engages children and adults in hands-on, innovative programs promoting environmental awareness and multicultural understanding on a beautiful 1,600 acre farm and wilderness preserve in Los Altos Hills.
The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District needs volunteers for trail maintenance, tree planting, and various resource management activities.
The Trail Center needs volunteers for their trail information, trail building and restoration, trail mapping, and related programs.
The Wildlands Restoration Team performs a variety of tasks geared to removing the adverse impacts of former human activity on wild areas. They meet Saturdays at various work sites in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
9. I’d like to volunteer to help out in local and national disasters (floods, earthquakes, etc.) throughout the United States. How do I go about this?
A great deal of this work is organized by the American Red Cross. Your local chapter can tell you about the programs and training they offer to help communities facing disasters on both local and national levels. Red Cross chapters offer a substantial number of health and safety courses (CPR, first aid, emergency response) and an array of disaster
courses (damage assessment, mass care, emergency assistance to families, shelter workshops, communications, etc. – basically free). The safety courses are invaluable and the disaster courses prepare volunteers to help with emergency disaster situations. You can take a few courses, attend meetings, and sign up to be on call for local disasters.
If you can commit for 3 to 4 week periods and take enough courses in your specialty you can sign up to be on call for national disasters throughout the country.
10. What’s it like going to help out on a national disaster with the American Red Cross?
Obviously, every situation is different for every person. Characteristically, there is great excitement yet apprehension as one prepares (usually on very short notice) to fly
to the disaster area (all flights and travel are usually arranged and paid for by the Red Cross).
Upon arrival, one is usually assigned to work in his/her specialty area at one of several Service Centers set up in the disaster area. For the next three to four weeks (or less if the Center closes) one spends 8 to 11 hour days assessing damage, making home visits to those who have suffered losses, interviewing clients at the Center or doing whatever one’s specialty is, and filling out way too much paperwork. After work, volunteers often go out to dinner together (Red Cross offers a very adequate food allowance) before returning (in their shared rental car) to their single hotel room, or bunk, or cot (generally the Red Cross arranges for the best suitable accommodations available). One usually gets a day off every ten days or so. Basically, you are thrown into a really different environment, work hard, meet a lot of nice people, and feel good about helping a lot of people. The exception to this is when the job is very overstaffed, which happens not infrequently.
11. Any helpful hints for successful volunteering?
Probably most important is to believe in the work you are doing and to feel that you are accomplishing something with your time. Towards the former objective, choose to work in an area that you care about, visit the organization or organizations in that area, ask questions, and find out exactly what they do and how you would be contributing to their goal. Next, do your best to make sure that you are needed and will be kept busy. This may not be possible until after the first volunteer session, but it is crucial. There is nothing more discouraging that to feel that your time is being wasted. Don’t give up easily, look for alternative ways to help out, be enthusiastic and remember that you will get out of it what you put into it. Let the organization know if you feel you are underutilized, give them a chance to make better use of your abilities. If it doesn’t work out, reduce your hours or move on. There will be many other opportunities where you are needed and appreciated.