Giving back to your community is one of the most rewarding things you can do in life. Through volunteer work, you can change the lives of others, grow personally and make a difference in your area of the world. But where do you start?

Volunteer opportunities aren’t hard to find. In fact, the choices might overwhelm you. Here are a few steps to follow to ensure your volunteer experience is a positive one, both for you and the agencies you volunteer with.

Why volunteer?

Studies have shown that volunteering can give you the upper hand in the job market. It’s also good for physical, mental and emotional well-being. Before you dive in, it’s a good idea to decide why you want to volunteer and how much time you can dedicate. Do you want to improve your skills, better your chances at getting a certain job or simply invest in others? Remember, volunteering is a commitment. Before you start, set a schedule. Decide how many hours per week you can volunteer and block them off.

Find your fit

What are you passionate about? What really gets you motivated to donate your time? There’s a volunteer opportunity for almost every cause, activity or interest, so do your research and find something that you’ll enjoy. Consider something that matches your skills, interests and schedule.

Look locally

There’s no better place to give back than right in your own back yard. Many organizations like the United Way and Red Cross will have volunteer opportunities right in your hometown. Schools and other organizations are always looking for extra help. Check your local library or city web site to see what might be available. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, think about creating an opportunity that fits your interests.

Get started

If you can’t find anything locally, let your fingers do the walking. There are endless online resources that will help you find a way to volunteer in your community, or around the world.

Here are just a few organizations to help you get started:

  • VolunteerMatch.org: A database that lets you search for volunteer opportunities according to your location, date and area of interest.
  • Idealist.org: One of the largest online resources for opportunities in the non-profit sector where you can find internships, volunteer opportunities and even jobs.
  • Createthegood.org: Connects you with volunteer opportunities that let you share your own life experiences, skills and passions in your community.
  • Pointsoflight.org: The world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, Points of Light works with 70,000 companies and nonprofits and 250 affiliates to engage people around the world in volunteer service.
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