What You Need to Know

What You Need to Know
  By Jessica Peddle

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You've done it. You've decided to volunteer. Whether it's to fill out your resume, gain experience in a specific field, get a reference or simply to "give back to the community", volunteering is a good thing to do. So, now you just pick an organization you like and jump right in, right? Not so fast- do you really know anything about the rights and obligations of volunteering? If you didn't think there were any, keep reading.

Know your responsibilities
Many organizations are always on the hunt for new blood, and you might think that this would give the upper hand to the volunteer. Not quite. Even though you are an asset to the organization, you can't just do whatever you want. You have responsibilities too.

Volunteer Canada states that these are just some of the responsibilities you have as a volunteer:

•only accept a position you feel will meet your needs, skills, interests and available time
•do your job to the best of your ability
•make suggestions, voice your honest opinion and seek honest feedback
•fulfill your commitments
•respect confidentiality
•treat co-workers and clients with courtesy

(For a complete list of your rights and responsibilities, visit www.volunteer.ca.)

Know your limits
Part of being able to fulfill your responsibilities is knowing your limits. Actually, this is one of the perks of being a volunteer - for the most part, you can decide how much time you want to give, when you want to give it, and for how long. The only obligation you have to the organization is to be upfront with them. So how do you figure out what your limits are?

Scheduling is the best place to start. Look at what you already have going on in your life - school, work, hobbies, social/family obligations - then decide what days and hours are best for you, as well as how many weeks or months you want to volunteer. If you're unsure of this, start out small - it's always better to commit to too little (and ask for more) than to break your promises.

Next you need to decide what tasks you're interested in and be clear about this when you contact the organization. If you're considering an environmental organization because you want to work outdoors, don't agree to stuff envelopes.

Know when to leave
If you start a volunteer position and find you don't like it, do you quit right then and there? Think again.

First you need to give it time. Don't quit right away. Just like a paying gig, you'll need some time to adjust. Try at least three or four sessions. The next step is to talk to your supervisor. Discuss what's working and what's not. In most cases, they will be willing to modify the position for you.

Know your rights
No matter what your motivation for volunteering, you are entitled to certain rights. According to Volunteer Canada, a national organization that promotes volunteerism across the country, here are just some of the things you have the right to ask for:

•a clear, written job description
•a carefully planned volunteer

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