By Becca Sirull, Spring 2017 Street Team Member
Becoming part of the volunteer staff at a community partner organization can be an incredibly meaningful experience and it only becomes more impactful as you continue learning about the organization. Everyone knows the most basic approach to gathering information starts with the same six questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how. You’ll already have learned the where and when of your service project—now as you dive more deeply into the organization, it’s time to learn the why, what, how, and who. These questions can help provide a framework as you learn more about your organization and figure out the role you will play in their structure. Try seeking out some of this information about the organization and you might be surprised at how fulfilling and enriching your service experience can be.
Nonprofit professionals are extremely mission driven, meaning their work ethic stems from intrinsic motivators. You will find this is key in maintaining a healthy work balance at your service project. Although sometimes you might feel like the work you’re asked to do is insignificant, remember that in the broader context of creating social change lots of little steps work together to create a huge impact. And often, it’s help with the smaller tasks like mailing, packaging, and calling clients that organizations need the most help with. Research the organization’s mission, values and history to build a foundation of interest in the cause that will blossom into a passion as you continue to serve. This basis of understanding will leave you feeling much more fulfilled in your work which in turn will have a positive impact on your work ethic at the organization.
Probably the easiest bit of information to gather will be what the organization does on a day to day basis—considering you’ll be a part of it! Find out the major priorities of the group you’re working with, and then see how those priorities are executed during the time you volunteer there. What is the service work being conducted? What are the impacts being made on the community? Not only will you get to learn what the organization does, but you’ll be the one making it happen. Besides learning more about your role within the organization, it will also be beneficial to talk with staff members and other volunteers about how they spend their time there, in order to get a more complete picture of the daily life at the organization.
The ‘how’ of your community partner organization might be the hardest thing to get to know because it’s multifaceted and complex, covering direct service work, organizational operations, funding sources, and possibly multiple sites. Does your organization use several program models to address its mission? Is your community partner a local organization? National? Maybe even international? How does your organization receive its funding? Are they a 501(c)3, a 3LC, a BCorporation? Its legal status can tell you a great deal about its funding strategy. For instance, hybrid models like the 3LC and BCorps often allow for increased earned income generating opportunities than more traditional funding models. All these questions help define an organization’s Theory of Change, essentially outlining their plan to create social value step-by-step.
The people are at the heart of any community organization: both the groups being served and the ones devoted to initiating change. Volunteering at a organization is a great way to learn more about the target demographics of that organization, as well as learning about community needs you may never have known existed. If your position involves direct service, you will have the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with community members and gain access to new perspectives as you learn about their life and experiences. You will also have the chance to learn from your fellow volunteers and staff members—how they got in their position, what inspires them every day, and what advice they can share.