As you take a break for Labor Day, take a moment to reflect on where you’re at. What skills do you use at your job? What skills haven’t you used in a while? What would you like to gain experience in?
Your job is just one way to build and use your skills — have you thought about how those same skills could be useful for volunteering? When you think of volunteering, you probably think of hands-on work like building houses with Habitat for Humanity, or serving food at a local homeless shelter, or collecting donations. Business skills are clearly useful for charitable organizations too, but there are also plenty that can benefit from creative professionals as well.
Get the message across
Nearly any organization you’re interested in uses graphic design to communicate their mission and how they aim to serve. This can come through in logos, posters, and brochures, as well as promotional items like t-shirts.
Social media skills are also needed by non-profits too. It may be as simple as helping them set up or improve their presence on the appropriate channels, which (at the moment) are likely to be Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, or Pinterest. Or, it could mean participating as a community manager and responding to posts, or sharing new items of interest.
One organization that provides a platform for small engagements in this kind of work is Sparked. You can sign up for alerts about “microvolunteering” opportunities to take on small projects like these.
Visuals can also help tell the stories that matter to an organization. Illustration, photography, and data visualization can all come into play.
You may also be able to find ways to practice these skills directly for the benefit of people these organizations serve. One such charity is Operation Photo Rescue, a group which travels to areas struck by natural disasters like floods and hurricanes to take high-resolution photos of damaged family photos. Then, an army of volunteers (myself included) use our photo-retouching skills to restore them, with opportunities at all skill levels.
Work through the experience
Experience design can tackle some of the fundamental challenges in serving the different types of people involved: those who receive the support of a charity, those who are considering volunteering or donating, potential partners, and so on.
For any organization, the design of their website in particular can go a long way in communicating, clarifying, and motivating each of these people according to their interest in it. There are likely to be ways to volunteer for assisting the design or development of them, especially for smaller organizations that can’t hire their own.
If you want to focus on tackling design problems that can directly affect a person’s quality of life, OpenIDEO hosts a number of challenges in this realm.
A lesson learned
If you want to design instructional material, look for charities that look to educate students. There may be opportunities to create lesson plans for students.
One organization in the Bay Area takes this to a new level by repurposing materials that would otherwise go to waste. Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT) looks for volunteers to both design and assemble lesson plans. They take odds and ends donated from companies, like plastic holders from shipping test tubes, and create hands-on activities for kids. These activities can demonstrate anything from simple science principles to motor skills like sewing.
The U.S. has dedicated September 11th to be a National Day of Service and Rememberence. Why not use that day to find a way to give back?