5 tips for finding a meaningful volunteer position

“If you’re running a tea for seniors, you’re not pouring tea, you’re building relationships with people who may be lonely."

'It’s easier than it ever was to find volunteer opportunities, because the internet is infinitely searchable.'

A volunteer with the Surrey Food Bank Society sorts through items. (CBC)

Wanting to volunteer this year?

The head of a B.C. volunteer organization says there is no shortage of possibilities available, and they're easier than ever to find.

"It's such a gift, it's such an opportunity to express the things that you love most in the world," said Stacy Ashton, the executive director of Community Volunteer Connections, a volunteer centre serving the Coquitlam and New Westminster area.

Stacy Ashton is the executive director of Community Volunteer Connections. (Gavin Fisher/CBC)

"One of the fun volunteer things that I've done is volunteer at the Vancouver Science Fiction Convention, because I love science fiction. Those are the kinds of things [available], those little tiny niche things. I'm not going to get a job running science fiction conventions, but I love to help out."

Here are Ashton's tips for finding a volunteer position that's a good fit:

1. Think about the difference you want to make

"The first thing that I get people to do is think about what you love, appreciate, value in your community … that's going to give you a sense of who you enjoy helping," Ashton said.

"You can think about the things that could be better in your community. Try and flip  it to what you want, not what you don't want, because volunteering is essentially a very optimistic activity. You want to deal with crime in your community, but really want you want is a safer community "

2. Find others who care about the same issue

"Find out who else in your community cares about that [issue], so that is usually an organization or a group of people, and often the easiest way to do that is to Google your city and issue," Ashton said.

Volunteer centres and volunteer festivals, such as one in New Westminster on Jan. 30, are other ways to find a position, Ashton said.

"I have about 360 organizations in my database," she said. "We find out about the most little odd-ball things."

3. Start off small

"If you're not sure you want to make that level of commitment, then start with something smaller," Ashton said, adding that volunteering for a single event could be a way to start.

4. Prepare to invest yourself

"The more commitment, the more a volunteer role requires from you, the more training and support your going to need to do it, and that means the organizations is really going to invest in you," she said.

"You have to invest in them back."

Also, many volunteer positions are more than just doing a task — they also provide other opportunities and services.

"If you're running a tea for seniors, you're not pouring tea, you're building relationships with people who may be lonely … so try and look for that in the tasks you are given."

5. Take it seriously

"If you say you're going to do it, do it," Ashton said.

"Take the volunteering seriously. Just because you're not being paid to do it doesn't mean that people aren't relying on you," she said, adding that to also remember that volunteering can be a resume booster.

"One of the managers of volunteers at a family centre would always tell their volunteers: 'If you miss your shift, that four-year-old is going to cry.'"

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: How to find and enjoy a meaningful volunteer position

With files from Gavin Fisher


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.