How to find meaningful volunteer and service work

Why volunteer?

  • Explore careers
  • Develop skills
  • Gain diverse experiences
  • Develop your network/connections
  • Discover yourself
  • Develop your sense of purpose
  • Improve your health (social, mental, physical, spiritual)
  • Identify new opportunities (for personal life & career)
  • Have positive impact on a community

Identifying your cause(s)

Ask yourself:

  • What do I like to do? What are my hobbies?
    • Ex: sports, music, work with kids, etc.
  • What causes(s) am I interested in?
    • Ex: education, the arts, cancer, autism, nutrition, etc.
  • What population(s)/group(s) am I interested in working with?
    • Ex: children, seniors, individuals with disabilities, animals
  • What skills do I wish to obtain/develop?
    • Ex: communication skills, leadership, language, etc.
  • What are my goals?
    • Ex: learn more about a career, give back to a community, broaden experiences, gain new perspective

Finding opportunities (key resources)

Volunteering abroad:

  • Explore MIT opportunities
  • Consider your finances!
  • You may have to pay fees to volunteer abroad.
  • You may be able to make a greater impact volunteering in your local community, and staying within your financial means.

Developing your own proposal

  • Think outside of the box.
  • Listen to needs of organization/community.
  • Create project that is mutually beneficial and sustainable.

Managing your time

  • How much time do you have? Be realistic!
    • What days and times you are available to volunteer?
    • How will you balance volunteering with other activities?
  • Don’t over-commit. Start small, and grow! Otherwise, it may be a disappointing experience for you and the organization.
  • There is no magic number of hours. How much you time you dedicate will depend on your unique schedule and priorities!
  • Complete time management exercises to assess your schedule.

Contacting organizations to get started

  • Do your research on the organization.
  • Think of/suggest ways you can be helpful. Don’t create work for the organization to fit you into the picture.
  • Follow instructions on organization website.
    • Fill out volunteer form -OR-
    • Send email with “elevator pitch.”
  • Follow-up with a phone call.
  • Assess responsiveness of organization.
  • Consider timeframe.
  • When do you want to get started?
  • How long it will take for the organization to have you up and running?

Maximize your experience (personally & professionally)

  • Volunteer not just because you think you “should” or because it is merely self-serving, but because you have a sincere motivation to help others.
  • Ensure that your efforts meet the community needs.
  • Step outside of the MIT bubble if you can, and engage with the surrounding community.
  • Create structure, meaning track what you accomplish and take initiative, just like you would in an internship or job.
  • Take time to reflect on your experience. Consider what you learned about yourself and how it might influence your future direction.
    • Keep a journal; log 2-3 things you learn each time.
    • These examples will help with job or graduate / health / professional school interviews.