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How to Help Around the Holidays

By Angela Marchesani, M.A.

Director of Program Operations

Each year at Women’s Resource Center, we receive a substantial increase in volunteer applications around the winter holidays. People call our Helpline wanting to donate their time, talent or treasures to a worthy cause. Sparked by gratitude and filled with the holiday spirit, they are inspired to give back, and eagerly reach out to local charitable organizations to offer their help.

Sometimes we hear from people who are confused because their attempts to help are met with a lukewarm response from the agencies they approach, or worse yet, no response at all. The reasons for this are varied and complex, but often come down to two primary things: 1) The agency is overwhelmed and doesn’t have adequate staff power to manage the seasonal influx of new volunteers, and 2) The agency has plenty of needs, but none that match this candidate’s skills (or availability, or preferences). For a well-meaning person trying to make a difference, it can be disappointing and frustrating: “Why is it so hard just to help?”

To avoid that frustration, a little bit of planning can go a long way. As you begin to consider ways you’d like to help, the guidelines below will help match your gifts to the right volunteer opportunity.  Our tips will ensure that your good intentions are met with a warm reception this holiday season.

Five Tips for Giving Back

1. Choose your cause. Volunteer work feels best when you are supporting a cause that is important to you. Your time and energy deserve to be applied to a mission you can really get behind. Think of an issue that has touched you or a loved one- disease research, social justice- or consider issues that you feel grateful to have avoided- hunger, homelessness. There are plenty of worthy causes near home, including several charitable organizations within Radnor Township.

2. Pick your approach. How do you want to give back? Define the ways in which you are willing to help. We often speak in the nonprofit world of “Time, Talent, or Treasures,” meaning people can help in many ways. Perhaps you’d prefer to do some behind-the scenes work, or maybe you’re willing to do some “grunt work.”  You may be set on providing direct service, like serving at a soup kitchen or answering a hotline. Spend a few minutes thinking about what capacity you’d like to volunteer in, and define your level of commitment in terms of time and duration.

3. Plan ahead.  Food pantries, soup kitchens, toy drives and the like have an abundance of volunteers this time of year, and sometimes can’t accommodate more people (or scheduling preferences), even well-intentioned. If you reach out early, you may be able to schedule your service ahead of time. Also know that most charitable organizations require background checks from their volunteers, which can take several weeks.

4. Call WRC. During the winter months, we maintain a list of specific needs and opportunities from partnering agencies. While we don’t directly match volunteers, we can tell you who needs extra hands for a fundraising event or where you can drop canned food donations. Phone the WRC Helpline at 610-687-6391 for some ideas.

5. Opt to donate. If your time and talent aren’t finding the right fit, your “treasure” will be much-appreciated by any charitable organization. To make an even bigger impact, enroll in a monthly giving program, where you can donate a set amount each month, year-round. This helps the agency plan their budget and allows them to have consistent income outside of the holiday season. To ensure that your donation will be put to good use, research agencies using GuideStar, which tracks and publishes the financial documents, programs offerings, and impact of nonprofit agencies. Navigate to guidestar.org and then search by agency name to get an idea of how the agency stewards the funds they receive (try it out with Women’s Resource Center of the Delaware Valley). Charitable donations are tax-deductible, your accountant can advise you if there is an ideal amount for you to donate.

Women’s Resource Center knows the value of volunteers- we are proud and grateful to have over two hundred volunteers who help our agency meet its mission. Any charitable organization depends on the support of individuals who want to align with their mission to make a positive change. While you plan your holiday support, stick close to what matters to you. Your giving may turn out to be a new holiday tradition- or a lifelong partnership of support.

Thank you for sharing your time, talents and treasures!

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