We discuss how to choose an effective charity to donate to in a separate article. People often ask us what’s different if you want to volunteer rather than donate. Here are a couple of quick thoughts on that topic – we hope to write a full article in the future.

One problem with volunteering is that volunteers need to be managed. If untrained volunteers use up the time of trained managers, it’s easy for them to cost the organisation more than the value they add to it. The reason many volunteering schemes persist is that volunteers are more likely to donate in the future. For instance, when FORGE cut their volunteering scheme to be more effective, they inadvertently triggered a big drop in donations.

This also explains why many volunteering schemes involve unskilled work, like yard work or serving food. The aim of the scheme is just to get people involved, rather than directly have an impact.

This means that it’s often more effective to donate than volunteer.

Soup Kitchen
Don’t end up like a top lawyer working in a soup kitchen – if they donated a few hours of salary, they could employ 10 people to do the same work.

However, some volunteering can be effective. In choosing where to volunteer, we’d recommend a process similar the process we outline for choosing where to donate, except, also consider whether the charity has a special need for your skills. For instance, if you’re a web designer, can you help build their website? If you’re a lawyer, can you provide pro-bono legal advice?

To help determine this, one question to consider is whether the charity would prefer a donation or your time. Suppose you’re a lawyer and you’d be happy to either spend a weekend doing pro-bono work or donate $1000. If the charity has a genuine need for your legal advice, they’ll probably choose that rather than the money. In some cases, you can directly ask the organisation about what they’d prefer.

Volunteering can be a great way to learn about an area and build career capital. Just remember, if you’re doing it for this reason, try to avoid placing a burden on the organisation.