Chicago mom: A guide to volunteering and charity

Like most moms, I wear many hats. I’m a mom, a short-order cook, a housekeeper, a chauffeur and a fun-bringer. But, one of the roles that I am most proud of is my professional role as a fundraiser. I’ve been involved in fundraising for more than ten years and have witnessed the outstanding generosity of so many, the ebb and flow of giving and volunteering, burned out volunteers and the reality of what a difficult economy can mean to so many worthy organizations.

There are a lot of terrific organizations out there and it is often hard to choose just one. When you’re considering how you want to spend your valuable time this holiday season and where you want to donate your hard-earned money, or when you’re writing your resolutions for 2014, I have a few tips to consider:

Find an organization that resonates with you. Make sure you are personally invested in the mission. If you don’t really care about animals, don’t get involved with a shelter – even if they do throw the biggest party or have well-connected volunteers. Consider diseases that affect your family or an organization that makes a difference for a social cause you believe in, such as education, domestic violence or hunger. If the cause isn’t connected to your heart strings you may not feel like your time and effort is worth it.

Do your research. If you are making a contribution, be sure to check charity watchdog sites (like Charity Navigator) which rank charities and share efficiency levels. If you are planning to volunteer, ask people you know or request the organization connect you with a volunteer to answer questions.

Figure out your priorities. What are your goals in getting involved? Is this a long-term commitment? Are you looking to create a long-lasting, meaningful relationship with the organization? Would you like to network with board members and leadership? Figure out which organization is best structured to help you meet those goals. If you want to build something or have one-on-one interaction with someone in need, you might not want to volunteer with an organization focused on funding research.

Be clear about expectations. Request job descriptions including time commitments if you are planning to spend time as a volunteer or join a committee. If you want to make a one-time gift and would not like to be added to a mailing list, be clear about that in your interaction or make note of that on your check.

Follow through. Non-profit staff often depend on volunteer support. Whether you make a commitment to come into the office to help with a mailing, promise to procure items for an auction or verbally pledge a monetary donation . . . Make it happen. Once it’s put out there, staff depends on your follow through to be successful. NOW is not always the right time. So, consider what the months ahead look like before you make a commitment. Make the commitment when you are ready or ask an organization to follow up with you at a certain time.

If you’re lucky enough to work in my profession you’ll learn that there is a staggering amount of passion and generosity in this beautiful city of ours. Each of us has the opportunity to make a difference – even when we feel busy or cash-strapped. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you can offer and finding the right organization that needs you. Now, go out there and make a difference!

 Do you have tips on giving back or getting involved? Share them here in the comments!
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