How to make time for volunteering in Hong Kong (and everywhere else)
Written by: Allan Song
HandsOn Hong Kong Board Member
I think it’s safe to say that many of us want to volunteer, and most of us understand that volunteering is a good, decent thing to do.
However, we all have jobs, families, and a million other obligations, that easily overtake our existing motivations to take time out of our busy schedule for volunteering - and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you live in a city like Hong Kong, it gets all that more challenging.
I’ve had the fortune of meeting hundreds of other volunteers during my time as a volunteer leader with HandsOn Hong Kong. While I may not have invented a way to warp space-time to add a few more hours to your busy week, I’d like to share with you some practical insights and suggestions that might get you out volunteering. In turn, better helping our communities that are in desperate need of help, now more than ever.
While these "tips" are mostly directed at specific communities in Hong Kong, particularly though the HandsOn Hong Kong network, most of the advice can be taken no matter where you are in the world. HandsOn is affiliated with Points of Light, which is a great starting point to find similar resources in your city.
In the lead up to International Volunteer Day, taking place on December 5th, let’s see how we can make volunteering a bigger part of your busy lives!
1. Don’t feel the need to commit - start with just one, short, small activity
There is no big secret here. Nor is it impossible to find 1-2 hrs, just once, on a weekend to participate in a volunteering activity (protip: if you live in Hong Kong, you can find hundreds of activities on the HandsOn HK calendar)Many people fail to do even one activity, simply because they feel it will lead to further commitment. This is simply not true. Any commitments are always in the control of the volunteer, so don't let that deter you from signing up to your first activity.
Just take the plunge and book your first activity, now!
2. Don't try to change the world (yet) - be picky, find the volunteer activity that suits YOU
A common mistake when people get excited about volunteering is they want to cast a huge net and save the world on their first try. An admirable motivation, no doubt, but sometimes the search then becomes too overwhelming and intimidating.
Find an activity that suits your time, your interests, and your skills - its ok to be picky. For your first activity, focus on doing something that you are comfortable with, not something that you think is the most in need, or that someone else is doing.
There are hundreds of NGOs in HK with volunteering opportunities that will fit any preference. Luckily, the the staff at HandsOn Hong Kong has worked hard to ensure there is a variety of activities available at your fingertips on their calendar. Whether its poverty alleviation, children’s education, elderly care, environment, animals – there is something for everyone.
4. Plan ahead, way ahead, and volunteer with friends!
Most volunteers are unable to find free time in their schedule until the last minute. When this happens, it’s often too late to find activities you are interested in. Using the HandsOn calendar, you can sign up for activities that are weeks, sometimes months in advance. Don’t worry, if something does come up, you can always cancel. (However, we do recommend cancelling as early as possible so others can sign up)
And don’t forget to get your friends to join as well! So many of our activities rely on social interaction, so there is absolutely thing wrong with bringing along friends, especially if that will help you commit to an activity.
Check out this recent article by Sam Lau on how to turn your next recreational activity in a volunteering event : Recreational Volunteering – a different take on community engagement?
5. Virtual Opportunities
Social distancing has been challenging for many, but it has allowed us all to embrace virtual options in both our professional and personal lives. There have been many more virtual volunteering activities being made available around the world, and in Hong Kong, HandsOn has been a leader in this space.
This is an easy way to commit your time to a short activity, while also cutting out some of the overhead like travelling to a location, and still making a huge impact.
There are so many great opportunities available now where you can make an immediate impact. Such as using Zoom to be a story teller at the Story Telling Corner with children, or helping local underprivileged children and children of refugees with their homework.
6. Skills Based Opportunities
Some people prefer to volunteer in ways that leverage their own professional skills. By doing this, they feel they are adding more value on the back of the time commitment being given. While I personally believe volunteering in any shape or form has tremendous impact, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to apply your valuable talents.
During the pandemic, many NGOs have seen reduced funding and have been in dire need of skilled resourcing within their organizations. In HK, HandsOn has worked hard to expand their list of skills based volunteering programs.
These opportunities are often longer commitments, but range widely, anywhere between 2-3 hours a week for a month, to 15-20 hours a week for half a year. For example, right now there are roles for a Comms & PR volunteer with flexible commitment at HELP for Domestic Workers, as well as roles for a Medical Assistance Volunteer with ImpactHK requiring 15-20 hours a month for 6 months.
If you're interested, get your CV ready and make a submission!