This is a guest blog post from Reed Sandridge. Sandridge lost his job in 2009 and did the unthinkable – he started giving away $10 a day to complete strangers! He captured the story of every recipient at www.yearofgiving.org. A frequent writer and speaker on volunteering and micro-philanthropy, Sandridge lives in our nation’s capital.
A few weeks ago I wrote about combining travel with volunteer work. For me this has been somewhat required this year given my commitment to volunteer once per week with a different organization in 2011. When I went to Pennsylvania I volunteered with New Hop Ministries – a local community outreach organization serving the suburbs of Harrisburg. In New Orleans I got up at 4am to volunteer at the National Conference on Volunteerism and Service. I even managed to help out some high school students from New York City when I visited the Big Apple last month. It sounds easy, but sometimes it requires an extra effort or maybe even a little bit of the luck of the Irish.
Last week I squeezed into a crowded Boeing 767 bound for Dublin to attend the wedding of two friends who returned to Ireland after living in Washington, DC for several years. As I was going to be in the Emerald Island for a week I researched a variety of organizations in the Dublin area where I might be able to volunteer. Days after sending out emails to a half dozen Irish non profits inquiring about ways to help them during my trip, I was no closer to finding my volunteer fix for the week. Finally I received some responses; however they were not what I expected.
Each reply had basically the same message:
Thank you very much for your interest in volunteering with us during your stay in Ireland. You will need to fill out an application and return it to us. Furthermore you will need to pass Garda (police) vetting. After completing these first two steps, it will be necessary for you to come into the offices for a personal interview. If you successfully complete each of these steps we can jointly determine which upcoming activity would be best suited for you based on your skills and abilities.
I wondered if they had read the part where I mentioned that I would only be in Ireland for seven days. It just didn’t seem very probable that I would be able to complete all of their requirements and still have time for a volunteer activity so I decided to wait until I arrived in Dublin and go in person to a few places that I had sent requests to.
On my side was the fact that the European Union has proclaimed 2011 the “Year of Volunteering.” Various countries across Europe were focusing on the value of volunteers and volunteer organizations. I just hoped that this wave of energy had already hit Ireland and that organizations were fired up about passionate volunteers like myself.
As my luck would have it my trip would overlap by two days with the European Union’s Year of Volunteering Roadshow - a five day fair featuring more than 70 charities that depend on volunteers to operate. There were information booths about each of the nonprofits that were participating as well as informational seminars on a wide range of subjects related to volunteering.
Luckily I had stumbled upon Irish Aid’s offices within minutes of arriving in downtown Dublin where I met a woman who put me in contact with Kate McDonagh from Volunteer Ireland, the local organization coordinating the symposium. She asked if I would help with operations during Tuesday’s event. This worked perfectly for me not only because I would be back in Dublin and was available that day but also because the focus of the day was on charities that engage older Americans – a topic that I thought would naturally be of interest to AARP readers.
In the coming weeks I will share more with you about how different cultures view volunteerism, particularly Ireland, as well as some statistics on Ireland’s older citizens and how nonprofit organizations are supporting them.
In the meantime, I will leave you with four lessons learned to help you succeed in adding a volunteer project to your next overseas adventure.
Research: Take some time and identify a handful of organizations near your destination that you would be interested in supporting. Remember that charities that have ties to the U.S. may be more open to your involvement.
Contact: Introduce yourself to your short list of candidates. Send them and email that clearly states your interest and the dates that you will be available. Follow-up by phone or in person may be more effective than email – remember applications like Skype can enable you to call abroad very economically.
Establish Credibility: There are a few things you can take with you that will help the prospective charities select you as a volunteer. You might be able to get a background check from your state police office – they typically run less than $30. Consider asking your church, employer or local organization where you volunteer to write a letter of good standing for you. Take copies (physical or electronic) of these documents to support your case.
Show Gratitude: Be sure to thank those who helped make your volunteering possible. Drop them a note afterwards or maybe bring something small with you from your home-town and give it to them at your volunteer site – you will help them be more willing to accommodate future volunteers from abroad.
For more information on volunteering in Ireland please visit:
Photo courtesy of Reed Sandridge
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Post 8: Are you a Philanthropist? Maybe