The holiday time of year serves up an important reminder that there are many people in need of a little assistance and numerous ways to lend a hand in the community. There are no shortage of opportunities to volunteer at a government agency or non-profit organization, but is this the desired use of a vacation? The word vacation means fun and sun for most people, but a Volunteer Vacation is an ideal way to improve your work-life balance while enriching the lives of others. I realize that having a limited number of vacation days per year makes it difficult to justify spending any time slated for rest and relaxation in a volunteer activity. The rewards of volunteering are present whether you use your own vacation days or preferably, when your employer grants you “free” days to volunteer. As such you probably fall into one of two mindsets when it comes to considering taking a volunteer vacation:
1. You treat every opportunity in life as a chance to connect with people and you are passionate about good causes. Therefore you are perfectly happy using paid vacation days for community service and volunteer purposes.
2. You value paid time off and wish to use all of your vacation days for travel and family purposes, with volunteering coming in a close second. Therefore you wish there was a way to give back as a community volunteer without the loss of hard earned vacation time.
For the people in category 2, you will quickly learn that taking as little as one day to volunteer can deliver the same kind of result as taking a “traditional” vacation day. Volunteering your time for as little as an afternoon or one full day is within the reach of everybody and you have much to gain by lending a hand, not just during the holiday season but all year long. It may not resemble a typical vacation in your eyes or the eyes of your friends and family, but you may be surprised at how much enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment it brings. This is not unlike traveling to an unknown destination where you must step outside your comfort zone, learn a little about the local area, meet interesting people, and return to work fulfilled and refreshed.
The ultimate scenario is to be given time off from work for the purpose of volunteering in the community. Using your own vacation time is the next best option and a responsible way to use up vacation days that cannot roll over to the following year. Your first step is to ask your human resources contact or consult the employee handbook at your workplace to find out if there is a written policy on volunteering during working hours. Many employers match cash donations to charities and some will also offer paid time off to volunteer which can deliver a greater impact.
If you determine that there is no set policy on taking off from work to volunteer, the next step is to ask your manager. Whether you draft a detailed email proposal or talk to your manager in person, mention how volunteering offers work-life balance benefits in addition to providing an opportunity to give back. It also makes your employer look like a responsible corporate citizen and may generate positive press as a result of your volunteering. Maybe you will be able to encourage your co-workers to participate as well and turn it into a group effort. It is critical that you pick out the volunteer opportunity in advance including possible dates and time commitments, before talking to your manager. By presenting official information about the volunteer opportunity, including the fact that the non-profit organization is both established, reputable, and well-respected in your community, your manager will be more likely to approve your request.
As you can guess, the Web is chock full of non-profit and charitable groups and sites listing organizations that are in need of volunteers. Before you search the web, consider the organizations that you have seen in your community as well as causes that are important to you personally. Visit those website, stop by in person, or give a call and see if they have a volunteer coordinator who can describe the ways in which volunteers can lend a hand in their free time. I recommend that you browse the website VolunteerMatch, which is a comprehensive directory of volunteer opportunities. You can search by geographic location (city and state) as well as keywords such as seniors, pets, environment, or food. A particularly cool feature is their VolunteerMatch Live Map, which is a live feed of volunteers sought and found across the United States. They also offer an iPhone App, though I hope they create one for Android phones too.
Whether you decide to use part of your vacation time to volunteer or get approval from your employer to take bonus time off to volunteer in your community, the rewards are the same. Giving back as a volunteer is a smart way to maintain a healthy work-life balance and travel locally in ways that benefit you and the community. I hope that you consider this approach and find creative ways to volunteer as part of your overall vacation plans during the holiday season and for the new year. Comment below to suggest other websites that seek to place volunteers in the U.S. and abroad.
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