Remember dating? You’d meet someone you liked at school or work, a friend set you up with a nice guy or you talked to an interesting woman at a party. You went on a date or two and maybe moved on to a relationship, eventually marriage if it all worked out that way. The virtual world has replaced that process with dating apps that promise to do the initial sorting-out for you.
I’m too old and married for dating apps, but I’ve just dived into something that feels similar. I’ve been wanting to find a meaningful volunteer job, and I’ve been spending some quality time on www.cincinnaticares.org, the local website that helps match up volunteers with nonprofits. Cincinnati Cares is the Greater Cincinnati affiliate of Inspiring Service, a nonprofit that has been, since the beginning of 2021, a fiscal sponsor of Movers & Makers Publishing. The site has the same good things about on-line dating: many great choices for potential match-ups. It also offers some of the same frustrations: so many choices for potential match-ups!
Like dating, volunteering used to be more organic. Maybe you volunteered through your church. Or, as Carol Rountree, chief volunteer officer at Inspiring Service, pointed out, “Earlier generations had benevolent fraternal organizations they belonged to.” You just took part in whatever the Elks or the Shriners were doing. Or it came up at your kids’ school. I was briefly president of an organization through which my daughter took music lessons. (Briefly because, I freely confess, I was so bad at it.)
I retired from work more than a year ago, and of course volunteering has been on my list of ways to spend my time. I can be struck suddenly by something I’ve read or heard and think fervently to myself “I will give you all my money and I will do whatever it takes to help.” Follow-through is harder, and now it feels self-centered to look at this website of volunteer opportunities, swiping right and left, so to speak, rejecting perfectly nice nonprofits. But I want to find something that works for me.
On Cincinnati Cares you can search by location and by cause. At “Ways to Help” you can note more parameters, like whether you’re an individual or a group, when you’re available, what kind of training you’d like.
How do people decide? “A cause they believe in is the most important thing,” Rountree says, and that makes sense. But they’re all good causes. “Time availability is next.” What you want to do matters, too. Do you want to just volunteer occasionally? Or be a consistent mainstay for your cause, maybe even become a member of the board?
“Skills-based volunteering is kind of the wave of the future,” said Rountree. “If you’re an accountant, you can spend an hour of your day once a week helping a nonprofit by looking over their books and making sure everything is right.” It’s easy, and if your employer is involved, you can do it from work.
“On the other hand, “you can use volunteering to stretch your brain,” said Rountree. Or, if you’re young, use it to acquire some skills. I want to do something different that I never got a chance to try, or that I secretly think I’m great at. And I know I don’t want to do it in front of a computer at home.
I clicked on “children” because I miss being around their particular wonderful energy, and I feel it’s a way to make a difference to one person’s life. I tried “environment” because that’s what seems most important to me right now. I’d like to help someone learn to read, since reading has been a backbone of my livelihood and my pleasure in life. I found some nonprofits, or already knew of them, whose missions and methods just appeal to me, like La Soupe or Word Play or Crayons to Computers. You can get pretty specific by using the filters, whether you want a Black-founded nonprofit or to work with seniors.
It still leaves me with a lot of choices to think about. Rountree suggests dipping a toe in. “You can volunteer for one event. Races or walks always need volunteers. You can go to a nonprofit’s virtual event, which is inexpensive these days, and see what you think about the organization and what they say about themselves.”
Also, you can click on “items needed” and find a list of physical things you can donate. If you feel your skills are best used as a board member, there’s access to a process of matching nonprofits with people who would like to serve. And it’s not a bad way to figure out if there’s an organization you’d like to support financially with a donation.
In other words, I (and maybe you, too?) need to “get out there,” go on a few dates, give some potential partners a chance. Maybe I’ll have a fling. Or maybe I’ll find a long-term relationship. I’ll let you know.
Polly Campbell covered restaurants and food for The Cincinnati Enquirer from 1996 until 2020. She lives in Pleasant Ridge with her husband and since retiring does a lot of reading, cooking and gardening, if that’s what you call pulling up weeds. During the pandemic, she has missed the theater, live music and, most especially, going to parties.