One of the best ways to test the water, says Sarah Jane Rehnborg, PhD, lecturer in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and consultant to the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the University of Texas, Austin, is short-term or episodic volunteering—a day here, or a few hours there. It’s a great way to explore activities and to find a good match for your skills.

If you’re interested in long-term volunteering, Rehnborg encourages you to consider three things.


  • Time commitment. To make a real difference, you might need to sign on for several months. What are the ups and downs, ebbs and flows of your schedule? Volunteering isn’t a commitment to make lightly.
  • Which talents to share. The reality is that there are things you may feel more comfortable doing. What are the activities you most enjoy and how do you enjoy working? For example, it’s important for people who may be uncomfortable in big groups to seek out situations in which they’re working one-on-one. If you’re outgoing, however, you might enjoy speaking to large groups of people about an important cause.
  • The right fit. Is the organization welcoming? Do they have organized volunteer opportunities? Do you see other volunteers helping out there? Will you be a burden to an already busy staff? A lot of organizations say they want volunteers, but they haven’t set up a structure to engage the community. Finding the right one that welcomes and supports volunteers will help ensure a meaningful experience.

—R.M.