An Effective Volunteer

Last weekend I had the privilege of presenting to the 2012 Shepherd Alliance Interns about how they can be an effective full-time volunteer this summer within their placements.  Kimberly Phillips from Career Services gave an excellent introduction to making a good first impression and technicalities of how interns can develop desirable work skills on the job.  I was able to expand on Kimberly’s points speaking from personal experience, both as a Shepherd Alliance Intern in 2006 and as a supervisor to Alliance interns the past several summers.

This is me, Summer 2006, getting to know DC with my fellow interns.

In case you missed it and would like some hints on making the most of an intensive summer of service, here are the highlights from our presentation:

  • Non-profits are notoriously under-staffed.  As a summer intern/volunteer you want to make a good first impression by adopting the right work attitudes so that your presence eases the load of your co-workers.  Kimberly highlighted humility, a willingness to learn, respect (for staff and clients alike), confidence, open-mindedness, a good work ethic and a positive attitude.
  • Dress codes at non-profits are often casual.  Be sure to overdress at the start and follow the example of others.   Remember that the campus and real world definitions of appropriate dress are worlds apart:  watch the length of your shorts/skirts and keep your t-shirts clean, literally and figuratively.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.  It is absolutely essential that when you are given a task you follow up with your supervisor, even if it is just to let them know you’re working on it.  Your supervisor will not know your strengths, weaknesses, and skill level when you start work so it is your job to ask questions and offer solutions to problems. Effectively communicating your expectations and abilities with your supervisor can mean the difference between an experience and a great experience!
  • Develop relationships.  My guess is that you’re in this position because you have an interest in the issue that is being addressed.  Spend time getting to know your co-workers who are making a career out of this.  Pick their brains for ideas and know-how.  Talk to clients; learn their stories.  Often these experiences push us beyond our comfort zones, but that is often when we learn the most.
  • Know the boundaries of your position and stay within them.  If you are working in a hunger relief organization and a client is asking for gifts, rides, or anything else that falls outside the bounds of the organization, say no. Ask your supervisor for advice in the situation and research organizations that provide those services.  Your actions on behalf of the non-profit you work with represent that non-profit and set a precedent for the behavior and expectations of clients that may persist long after your summer job.  Your organization has guidelines for a reason- stick to them!

There you have it, the basics for turning a summer service opportunity into a true service-learning experience.

What would you add to the list?  Have you had an intensive summer of service experience?  Share some of your wisdom in the comments!

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