Photo by Maura Griesse

It’s winter. And many of us have cabin fever or as I like to call it the winter doldrums. This means people are turning their thoughts to spring and what we want to do in a few months.

But you don’t have to wait until spring to get out of the winter blues. There are things you can do today that will not only insure you are making a difference but are almost guaranteed to get you out of your funk.

You might ask what is it that you can do that will get you out of your doldrums.  The answer is to volunteer. Yes, find a way to volunteer either in person or virtually.

In a world that seems so busy, readers of this column might pause upon learning learn that according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, the volunteer rate in the United States was 25.3% or about 62.8 million people.

Yes, 1 out of every 4 Americans volunteered someplace in 2014. Women volunteer at a higher level (28.3%) then men (22%).  What might also surprise you is that the most likely age group to volunteer is those between the ages of 35-44 years old with 29.8% of them volunteering. Those individuals in the age group 20-24 volunteer at the lowest level (18.7%) with teenagers ages of 16-19 volunteering at a rate of 26.1%. Other interesting facts included that it does seem as we age, our volunteer participation rate declines. Additionally, married people volunteer at a higher rate than those who never married. And curiously, those individuals with children volunteer at a higher rate than those without children.

Many might deride these numbers saying there are more people in the United State who don’t volunteer then those that do. But I would counter by recommending we stop seeing what is not there and focus on what is possible including all the opportunities available to those who want to make a difference by volunteering.

First, there are the traditional ways of volunteering such as serving on a committee or board of directors as well as the efforts of all the Little League Baseball Coaches and Soccer Moms, Troop Leaders for local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts groups and of course, finding ways to feed the hungry through the nationwide network of 200+ food banks that comprise Feeding America.

Second, I learned long ago that living in this post 9/11 world many people I encounter daily tell me they want to be Making A Difference® but many don’t know where to start. But I would counter that everyone can be creative with their volunteering, especially in the middle of the winter and the doldrums.

Listed below are my top 5 recommendations for how to volunteer effectively and ensure you are truly Making A Difference® as well as insuring you are breaking out of your winter doldrums:

  1. Don’t make assumptions based on appearances of the nonprofit organization. Most need and will welcome volunteers. You just have to offer your help and services. Be persistent.
  2. Do your research. It is amazing what you can find by doing a little research online or check out the website of the nonprofit organization to locate a listing of volunteer opportunities. Talk to other volunteers whom I still contend are the best source for information about the opportunities available.
  3. When you volunteer, try a new activity; you might enjoy learning how to do something new and meeting new people.
  4. Are you too busy to volunteer during traditional office hours, after work or on the weekend? If yes, inquire to the nonprofit organization if they have virtual volunteering opportunities. You can volunteer virtually without leaving your home or office. Think about it this way, if you are an attorney, you might review a contract; if you are a graphic artist, you might create letterhead or an invitation set for an event – all from the comfort of your home or office.
  5. Numerous websites and Internet tools have been created to help you find nonprofit organizations looking for volunteers. Check out websites such as Women On Call; Volunteer Match; All For Good to find projects both virtually and in person.

Bonus Tip: Take the day off from work but have a day on! I know paid time off is precious and often saved for family and friend obligations, but why not take one day to change the life of another? Encourage your friends and family members to join you and make it a group affair!

Bonus Tip #2: Volunteering is not only good for others, but good for you as well! The Corporation for National & Community Service published a study (“The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research”) showing “a strong relationship between volunteering and health: those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.”  Know that your “service” may meet a tangible need, or it may meet a need of the spirit.

In the middle of winter and as days are getting longer, it is easy to fall into that trap of winter doldrums staying locked inside your home or office thinking you will do things when warmer weather comes. However, take some time to determine what you would like to do. What would make you happy? Then identify the nonprofit organizations with which you want to work. Ask questions; make inquiries; offer your services. It really is that easy and that you will be Making A Difference®

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