July 18, 2018

Can’t find time to volunteer? Start small—chances are there’s a nonprofit that could use the help

The founder of The Bloom Project—an Oregon organization that brings flowers to hospice patients—on the power of volunteering

As a gesture of kindness and compassion, volunteers from The Bloom Project bring floral bouquets to hospice and palliative care patients. Photo by Jane Wiley

It seems that now more than ever, there is need to take action in the world. Not only to create an impact in our communities—which, of course, is immense—but also for our own individual well-being.

Studies have shown that the more frequently people volunteer, the happier they are. The many benefits of volunteering include greater fulfillment, improved interpersonal connections, and even career advancement opportunities.

I started The Bloom Project in 2007 as a volunteer-driven nonprofit that provides fresh floral bouquets to hospice and palliative care patients. We get our flowers from wholesale floral companies, growers, and local grocery stores who donate them to our organization. The flowers are repurposed by volunteers into beautiful bouquets ready to deliver to local hospice and palliative care patients.

One of our volunteers once told me that, as a volunteer, it’s important to find an organization that gives you a sense of satisfaction for contributing to a cause you care about. For her, she found that through The Bloom Project. “Beauty, joy, the satisfaction that comes from repurposing discarded resources, the opportunity to send messages of love and support, teamwork, togetherness—it’s all there waiting for me each time I walk through the door,” she said.

While it’s easy to extol the virtue of volunteering and helping your community, it can be overwhelming to seek out participation in a nonprofit organization. You may see the magnitude of what others are doing and feel stifled.

According to the Stanford Center on Longevity, the most common excuse for not volunteering is lack of free time. Many might find it surprising that people aged 35 through 44 (those most likely to have young children or be employed) volunteer more regularly than retirees. That being said, research shows that people who volunteer before retirement are more likely to maintain their commitments after they discontinue working.

In the face of ever-growing community needs and persistent economic strains on nonprofits, volunteerism isn’t just a nice to have—it’s a necessity.

While inspiration to volunteer can vary by age (younger volunteers tend to be more motivated by future preparation, life enhancing skills, knowledge and advancing careers; older volunteers are more likely to cite concern for people besides themselves and their family), most people are generally seeking personal gratification and meaningful experiences.

Another common excuse for not getting involved is people do not feel informed about where to volunteer. Or, if they do, they do not find the jobs to be purposeful. It is important for organizations to talk with volunteers to make sure they are matching the skills and experience of their volunteers to the roles they have available. Research shows that organizations are most successful at recruiting and retaining volunteers if they have a full-time paid volunteer coordinator. This individual invites people to participate in nonprofit activities, and maintains consistent communication so volunteers feel included in the goals of the organization, and that their work is perceived as valued and appreciated.

When seeking out volunteer opportunities, I recommend starting small. If you’re overwhelmed in selecting a mission to pursue, consider a few simple things: identify your passions, do your research on where to find opportunities, and network. At the end of the day, a kind, compassionate gesture doesn’t have to be big to be powerful. In the case of The Bloom Project, one patient receiving the gift of a bouquet from a stranger makes a huge difference.

To take a look behind the curtain, it’s important for volunteers to understand the impact of their investment. In the face of ever-growing community needs and persistent economic strains on nonprofits, volunteerism isn’t just a nice to have—it’s a necessity. Many nonprofits rely on volunteers to accomplish their mission and keep overhead low.

Volunteerism is a strategic choice to use human resources to build capacity, and recent data shows it works. The Points of Light Service Enterprise Initiative research found that organizations that leverage volunteers across all levels of their enterprise (and manage them effectively), run at nearly half the median budget. At The Bloom Project, we would need 32 full-time staff to accomplish the same output our team of 200 volunteers currently provides!

If you are unable to give time or money, consider becoming an ambassador on behalf of a nonprofit organization, making connections to businesses, potential partners, or even just telling their story. Most nonprofits will see a direct benefit from individuals spreading the word to help raise awareness for the mission of the organization.

As Coretta Scott King once eloquently said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

Heidi Berkman

The Bloom Project

Heidi Berkman is the founder and president of the Portland, Oregon nonprofit The Bloom Project. She has 27 years of meeting and event planning experience with a background in retail marketing and extensive nonprofit experience. Her appreciation for the work of hospice comes from her own personal experience of watching a loved one being cared for. She has always enjoyed working with flowers and is grateful for the opportunity to create bouquets with donated flowers, providing encouragement to others instead of being discarded. This simple act of kindness can be given by gathering a team of committed volunteers, sourcing flowers and supplies, establishing a workspace, and obtaining the support of the surrounding community to provide in-kind products and services along with financial contributions to support the growth and impact of the organization.
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