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How to Be a Flexible Volunteer for the Planet

By Deborah Mitchell, Senior Editor of Environmental Protection for CharityGuide


It’s a common lament: there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you want to do. At the same time, you truly want to help make this planet a better place for yourself and your children. But what can you do if you can’t make specific time commitments because of your family, work, school, and personal obligations?

For today’s busy adults, flexible volunteering is the answer. Conventional volunteer opportunities—those that require people to make time commitments—are perfect for some individuals, but many others find that although they want to volunteer to help curb global warming or preserve rapidly vanishing ecosystems, they cannot commit to a prescribed schedule or time to volunteer for an organization because of their lifestyle. That’s where flexible volunteering comes in.

Do you frequently have 15 minutes or so to spare? Do you sometimes have a free hour or two on the weekends? Would you like to make a positive impact on the environment? Then get ready to be a flexible volunteer for the planet.

  1. Adjust Your Definition. The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that “voluntary” implies freedom and spontaneity of action, thus a flexible voluntary action is one that you can perform whenever you have some uncommitted time, not when someone expects you to be at a specific place at an appointed time.

    Flexible volunteering also gives you the freedom to do activities that are not for a specific nonprofit. In fact, as a flexible volunteer, you may choose activities that are promoted by one organization and then select others that are not specific to any one group.

    For example, you could volunteer to make phone calls to verify contact information for a local environmental group’s mailing list, but also voluntarily pick up trash that is negatively impacting the water fowl population at a nearby pond because you want to help and you have some spare time.

  2. Identify Your Time. Do you spend 15 minutes waiting for the bus? Do you commute for an hour on the train? Do you have an occasional half hour free while dinner is cooking? Does your doctor or dentist keep you waiting for your appointments? Do you sometimes have unexpected free time when a class is cancelled?

    Think about and identify possible slots of time that you could spend doing voluntary activities. If you have a cell phone and a few minutes while you’re on a train or waiting in line, that’s enough time to call your representative to voice your opinion or urge him or her to vote on an environmental issue.

  3. Choose Your Cause. Do you want to reduce global warming? There are scores of actions you can take to address this problem and many take 15 minutes or less; for example, switch from regular bulbs to CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), turn down the temperature on your water heater, write a letter or e-mail to your legislators about any environmental bills he or she may be supporting (or not supporting), or vow to use canvas bags instead of plastic or paper when you shop.

    Do you have an hour or two to spare? You could build a solar oven or start a compost pile (both are good family activities). Are you concerned about recycling? Learn where you can recycle all types of plastics, donate used cell phones, or ensure your tires are reused or recycled properly.

  4. Keep the Ideas Coming. You’re very busy, and you need to have your flexible volunteer ideas at your fingertips. A good place to start is CharityGuide.org, which not only lists many flexible volunteer opportunities but also links you to other environmentally active sites. You can also contact environmental groups individually, such as Environmental Defense or Stop Global Warming. Sign up to receive their e-mail newsletters, which often contain actionable ideas that you can follow up on whenever you have the time.

    Another idea is to contact local nonprofits that pique your interest and tell them you are looking for a flexible volunteer opportunity. Can you help them update their mailing list from your home PC? Write an article for their newsletter? Be a part of their phone tree? Update their website?

  5. Vacation with Your Mother. Mother Earth, that is. Vacations that include time spent volunteering for an environmental cause can be immensely rewarding. Literally hundreds of such opportunities await you. Whether you have a week or two or longer, you can choose a cause and a location anywhere in the world that meets your requirements. Would you like to help save the coral reefs? Preserve the rainforests? Help stop erosion on beaches? Promote sustainable agriculture? The world awaits your decision!

Deborah Mitchell is the Senior Editor of Environmental Protection for Charityguide.org. You can learn more about flexible volunteer opportunities that can help preserve the integrity of the environment at Environmental Protection Volunteer Opportunities.

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