The holiday season brings a surge of many of things: shopping, twinkling lights in public places, men in white beards roaming around malls. But the seasonal spirit can spur something else, too — volunteering.
While many nonprofits are searching for help, the gift of time can sometimes be a bit overwhelming this time of year.
Brent Lager, co-founder of the volunteer matching non-profit Uncover KC, said the number of volunteering requests they receive is noticeably higher as the calendar takes a turn to the end of the year. Specifically, the rush starts at the beginning of November, and goes up through Christmas.
“Even on Christmas Eve we get requests of people wanting to serve the next day,” Lager said.
But calling the day beforehand, or even the month-of, isn’t always the most helpful move as some nonprofit agencies start planning for the holidays, including where and how to use volunteers, much earlier in the year.
“We’re happy to have people interested but it does get to be difficult,” said Ann Klockow, the volunteer coordinator at reStart Inc., a local nonprofit serving the homeless. “We have some volunteers who have gotten in-touch with us months ago and we have things in place just like a family would have things in place for their holiday.”
For people who want to volunteer in November and December, and even the rest of the year, communication and flexibility is often key to being effective. Lager encourages people who are set on working with a particular organization to call a volunteer coordinator to talk about what’s really needed.
“Far too often we’ll get volunteers who have a preconceived notion of what is needed and what they’re going to do,” Lager said. "Lots of times they miss what the actual organization needs. One perfect way to do it is to call and say, 'What can we do?'”
Lager added that sometimes that response may be, “Come back in January when we really need you.”
Lager also encouraged people to do their homework — many organizations working with children require volunteers to do background checks or have certain immunizations. And many people who reach out to Uncover KC want a volunteer opportunity for the whole family, but not all places are kid-friendly.
At reStart, though many people want to work directly with the clients, that isn’t always what the organization needs or what the clients want. Klockow pointed out that anxiety is up for many people this time of year and that may be compounded for some reStart clients, who experience homelessness.
“Sometimes what we really need is for you to come help carry all these gifts inside to organize the holiday store on this date,” Klockow said.
Both Klockow and Lager encouraged flexibility and urged people to ask questions and be actively curious about the work being done at non-profits.
"At nonprofits, we're busy, but we do our best to be ready for volunteers," Klockow said. "(We) hope people can have a little grace and how that goes the first time. We welcome, (and we're) open to, feedback."
Kathleen Pointer is an assistant producer for KCUR's Up To Date.