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I came across a poll this morning on my financial advisor’s website. The poll question: “How has the recession affected your philanthropic giving or charitable legacy plans?” The answer that drew the greatest response (31%) was “Greatly – my primary concern now has to be providing for myself and my family.”

If you regret that you can’t give the amount of money that you’d like to your favorite charity, consider the alternative of volunteering. Volunteerism rates are the one bright spot in the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ 2009 year-end report. Whereas 61% of nonprofits in the state reported a decline in revenue in 2009, only 10% experienced a decline in volunteers. Sharing your time and your skills is a great way to give when your personal and/or business finances are tight.

But your time is valuable, too. When deciding where to volunteer, you’ll find more personal fulfillment and have a better chance at a long-term relationship if you do a little research for an organization that’s the right match. Here are some things to think about:

Consider how you’d like to make a difference. Are there community concerns you have, injustices you’d like to address or groups of individuals that need particular care? Focus first on broad issues that are your “hot buttons,” such as eldercare, animal rights, disease awareness, education or the environment, before you begin to narrow your search.

Search programs that are in alignment with your core mission if you’re looking for a corporate or group volunteer project. For example, work or church groups may consider projects that help enhance teamwork, such as Feed My Starving Children, a program that invites groups of 10 or more to pack food for children in need throughout the world.

Assess your skills. Are you handy? Good with numbers? An experienced writer with good grammar skills? Some organizations are an obvious match. For example, A Brush with Kindness – Habitat for Humanity’s program that works with homeowners struggling to maintain their homes – might be perfect for those of us who appreciate the “before and after” in addition to helping those in need. Goodwill-Easter Seals is looking for grease monkeys to help train automotive skills to students. Book lovers can lead book clubs for persons with disabilities through Lifeworks Services.

Factor your available time. Your volunteer project should fit into your time schedule so you’re not tempted to back out if it’s inconvenient. Consider the time it takes to travel to and from the volunteer site. While many organizations may require a set amount of time, try to block out a few hours in order to have the maximum impact for each volunteer session.

Visit the organization. Contact the volunteer coordinator to discuss your interests and schedule a time to visit the volunteer site. Be sure to ask specific questions regarding length of commitment and start date. Request a brochure or log on to the organization’s Web site to learn more about its history, mission and community impact.

Still need help deciding? Check out HandsOn Twin Cities and review their list of more than 200 affiliate agencies. You can also find your match through a keyword search, by browsing for projects or by reviewing the project calendar on the site.

- LuAnne Speeter

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