If you are the type of person who wants to find one organization to which you will devote all of your volunteer efforts, it might take months, as it did with my husband Ted, who happily gives his energy to Bikes Not Bombs, a social justice agency that works both locally and globally.
However, if you're like me -- someone who likes to work for several causes, with several different agencies -- it will take patience to put together the right mix. After you've identified your issues (in my case, adult literacy, and working with immigrants and refugees), you need to search for organizations doing the work that interests you. Keep an open mind; what might not look like a perfect fit can often turn out to be just what you seek.
Then you need to try and make contact. This is where the patience comes in. An initial email or phone inquiry will likely lead to filling out an application. If you are lucky, that application will result in an interview (just like the job hunting process). And in the end, there might not be a current opening, or might not be one that fits your available time. For example, the International Institute of New England, where I'm fortunate to volunteer every week, has a list of 400 volunteers who wish to work there, but many are available only on weekends, when the Institute is closed. In the current political climate, you'll probably find that every organization has a long waiting list for volunteer slots.
Remember, too, that you are not an organization's top priority. If you don't hear back from them right away, it's most likely because they are busy doing the work: feeding or clothing or housing people, finding jobs for them, educating, providing health care. Have patience.
And be a little bit persistent, too. A couple of weeks ago, after months of trying to make contact, I met with St. Stephen's Youth Programs about doing literacy mentoring with high school and college students this summer and beyond. While it's not working with adults, it is literacy, helping students with their writing skills specifically for college application essays and college-level writing requirements. And it's just a few blocks from my house. I followed up by email and let them know I am interested. I have yet to hear back with specifics. However, they are hosting an open house tonight for prospective volunteers, so I signed up to go to that, even though I've already had a one-on-one meeting with them. Time to demonstrate that I am very interested in the program. Patience, plus gentle persistence, is the combination that usually works for me.