Graphic that says "Questions to Ask before you volunteer"
Graphic by Anna Grace Askelson

Throughout the country, activism is ramping up. Faced with a global pandemic, widespread protests and pride month all at the same time, many Americans are wondering how they can help.  

Resource lists for organizations that need donations are flooding social media, and protests are popping up in cities everywhere. But if you cannot donate money or risk health by being in a large crowd to protest, you can still make a difference by volunteering. 

Community needs for food banks and other non-profit services still exist, and now is a great time to help. As the global pandemic pushes many people into unemployment or underemployment, more people need help than ever.  

This help can come from a variety of places including food banks, diaper banks, soup kitchens and more. You can find out what places in your community need help by looking around on Google, or by using a specialized search engine like Volunteermatch.org.  

My favorite place to volunteer in Birmingham is a diaper bank called Bundles of Hope, which I found through connections at my church. Talking to your friends and peers about what organizations they’re passionate about helping can also match you to the right place for you. 

Once you’ve found the place you want to go, you should ask two types of questions about the organization. 

First, how is the organization dealing with COVID-19? Are they accepting volunteers in smaller groups and social distancing? Can you volunteer on your own? Can you easily work in a mask?   

List what concerns you have, and look for answers on the organization’s website or consider contacting the organization’s volunteer coordinator.  

If in-person volunteering cannot be an option for you, reach out and ask if you can volunteer virtually or from home. You might be able to help do data entry, graphic design or website updating virtually. You could virtually ask neighbors to bring item donations to your front porch, sanitize them and drive them down to a food bank for an at-home canned food drive.  

The second question to ask is how the organization works to help all people equitably. Non-profits can be susceptible to discrimination just as individuals are. 

Investigate the organization you want to help and find out if it has a history of discrimination. Unfortunately, some religious organizations unfairly discriminate against members of other religious groups, or LGBTQ+ individuals.  

Beyond discrimination, it’s important to research the mentality that a non-profit approaches their work with. All too often, inner city and international non-profits are led with a white savior mentality – which is the conscious or unconscious idea that minorities in underprivileged areas need white folks to step in and save them. In reality, these types of organizations should have people of color in leadership roles, and work with the needs of the community, rather than ignorantly speaking over their voices.   

Never be afraid to reach out and contact a non-profit about any of these questions. Volunteer organizers should be happy to set you up to help others. 

Right now is an excellent time to volunteer, and by asking all these questions you can do so in a safe, and ethically sound way.