10/06/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Volunteering: Giving of Your Time, Talents, and Treasures

When I left the paid workforce many years ago to raise three children, I got involved with several non-profit organizations that over the years have provided interesting and challenging professional and personal development opportunities. For those interested in pursing this type of unpaid work, I have a few suggestions on how to make your experience as rewarding as mine has been.

The first step is to identify issues that really inspire you to want to change the world, the country, your state, or your community. Find an issue that you are passionate about and truly interested in learning more about. Having lived and worked in Asia for several years, I was inspired to help improve the lives of women in developing countries. In particular, I focused on giving them choices related to their reproductive health and providing educational opportunity for them. Research has shown that if you educate a woman, you educate the next generation of children.

Once you have your issue, then it's important to identify the organizations that work in that field. You should also understand the geographic scope of the organization's work. Some work globally, some locally, and some everywhere in between. Again, let your personal interests direct how far reaching you want an organization to be. Non-profit organizations are both large and small and usually measured based on their expense budget rather than their revenues. The internet is an excellent source for gathering information on various organizations. Another excellent source of information is from Charity Navigator. It is the nation's largest and most reputable independent charity evaluator that investigates the fiscal viability and performance of over 5,000 non-profit organizations. Its rating system measures the efficiency and sustainability of charities objectively and without bias.

Now that you have your issue and a list of organizations you want to get involved with, it's time for you to introduce yourself. An important question to ask yourself at this stage is how much of a time commitment do you want to make. Non-profit organizations need three important things from donors, supporters, and board members. First and foremost is your "Treasure" which is financial support. So, one easy and not-so-time consuming way to get involved is to write a check, a very valuable and important contribution to non-profits. Making a financial contribution will generally put you on the donor mailing list so you will get regular updates and information about the organization.

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