Volunteers can help organizations and governments provide services, advocate for populations, and empower everyday people. You’d like to use your skills to give back to your Seattle-area community — but how?
Finding the right volunteer opportunity can be much like finding a job. You’ll need to research possibilities, apply, interview and ensure it’s a good fit for both you and the organization.
Here are some tips on finding (and keeping) a great volunteer gig.
Research Seattle volunteer opportunities
Use sites like Volunteer Match or Nationalservice.gov to search for Seattle volunteer causes you care about, including those benefiting children, seniors, education, health and more. Dress as a mascot for a blood donation bank, host a foreign exchange student, perform graphic design for an LGBTQ+ organization, drive a veterans’ shuttle, or answer phones for a nonprofit health care organization.
Or, you can go directly to an organization’s homepage to find opportunities. For instance, YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish lists ongoing service projects throughout the region. Volunteers might lead activities for women, tutor girls, act as a parent mentor, or work in digital marketing.
Make sure your values align
“People should look for an organization that shares their values,” says Dr. Gwen Hosea-Mimms, Manager of Volunteer Services at YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish. “People looking for a volunteer situation should look at organizations that are doing the kinds of work they would like to do or believe in.”
You can often find this information on a website’s “About Us” page, including a mission statement and goals. YWCA’s mission states: “YWCA is on a mission to eliminate racism and empower women.”
Treehouse supports foster children, while the VA Puget Sound Health Care System provides veterans’ health services. The Sanctuary Art Center connects homeless and underserved youth populations with employment internships and artistic programs.
Many volunteer opportunities allow applicants to apply online, although some parts of the process are by phone or in person.
If you’re interested in volunteering with sensitive populations, for example children and women who have experienced traumas like homelessness or domestic violence, prospective volunteers may have a more involved interview process. YWCA volunteers go through a prescreening, an in-person interview, reference check, criminal background check, and sign confidentiality forms.
“YWCA’s volunteer prescreening really helps people understand what our mission is,” Hosea-Mimms says. “Potential volunteers are asked to open and honest about what their expectation of a volunteer experience is going to be about.” Typical questions include how the volunteer heard of YWCA, and why they want to volunteer.
Organizational requirements vary. Other nonprofit, schools, or city volunteer positions may ask for TB tests, fingerprint checks or additional requirements. You may also be asked for a resume or cover letter.
Share your abilities or vocation
If you’re more interested in working with a specific organization versus finding an opportunity for a specific role, a variety of assignments may be possible — as long as you describe them accurately on any form or in person.
One type of volunteer opportunity can be to serve on an organization’s committee or get involved in a networking group.
“We all possess various skills that may be strongly needed when volunteering. I believe that it’s a huge benefit to a nonprofit organization to borrow needed skills from a volunteer. I also believe that it’s important to step out of your comfort zone,” says Taj Benford, a committee member at GenRising, YWCA’s engagement program for professionals ages 21 to 45. Benford says he purposely joined a committee that had nothing to do with his profession, which allows him to learn and expand his skills while he serves the community.
Interested, qualified applicants often can be matched with suitable roles that are similar to their day-to-day work, too. At YWCA, a lawyer might give pro bono time for court-related situations, and a retired teacher might tutor children or set up a library. If a potential volunteer cuts hair for a living, they might be able to help to style the hair of job-seekers.
But specific skills aren’t necessary to volunteer. “Many volunteers come to YWCA to hone their skills while giving back,” Hosea-Mimms says.
Time to volunteer?
Some volunteer opportunities are short term, such as rebuilding a garden bed, serving breakfast, or doing a beach cleanup. Others are longer-term projects.
It’s essential to be transparent and honest in your application or interview about how much time you can commit. YWCA’s ongoing positions are best for volunteers who can commit to a specific day and time, every week, for several months, for example.
There’s a reason for that expectation. “If a volunteer is going to work with children, we require a commitment of 3 to 6 months,” Hosea-Mimms says. “Many kids have been through various traumas, and do not need more people coming and going in their lives, and causing more stress.”
One-time or limited-time volunteers are important too, she points out, whether washing dishes or serving lunch at YWCA’s Angeline’s Day Center. Entire organizations, businesses, or teams have volunteered together on short-term projects, as well.
And if you’re not entirely sure whether an organization is the right fit for you, there’s no harm in volunteering just a few hours or days, at first.
“No matter how much you have to give it’s always enough,” says Benford. “I found that it is important to volunteer at an organization you’re passionate about. I quickly realized that it’s more rewarding to you personally because you’re not just volunteering your time. With that passion, you find yourself becoming more involved on a consistent basis, which allows you to have a larger impact.”
Visit your volunteer location
If you’re interested in long-term, ongoing volunteer work, whenever possible, ensure you can make that commitment by visiting your volunteer workplace, and getting a sense of the environment. Meet a few other volunteers, acquaint yourself with the route to your volunteer destination by bus, light rail or car, and create a positive working relationship with your volunteer manager.
Doing so can help you better understand your volunteer duties, the workplace, the organization, and the clients you’ll serve. Hosea-Mimms points out that while not necessary, many volunteers identify with an aspect of the population’s experience — for example, those who experienced domestic violence may wish to work at a shelter.
Ultimately, volunteering is a two-way street. “We value volunteer work and value them, and we want them to value YWCA and work we do,” Hosea-Mimms says.
YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish is on a mission to empower women, eliminate racism and strengthen communities. YWCA has been “all in” for women since 1894, and we’re all in for the next 125 years.