How Introverts Can Find Volunteer Opportunities That Don’t Drain Them

An introvert helps kids work on the computer

When you volunteer, it’s about finding the right balance between the role and honoring your introvert needs.

“How do you feel about coming door-to-door with us tonight?” 

It was the spring of 2015, just weeks before Irish citizens would vote on whether to allow same-sex marriages. My work supervisor was trying to create teams for that evening’s community outreach effort. 

I was a volunteer campaigner in support of marriage equality, working with dozens of others in my area for the past several months. Much of the volunteering at the local LGBT+ support center involved engaging with voters, knocking on their doors, and asking for a couple minutes of their time. I knew how important it was to talk to them about their feelings on the matter or answer any questions they had. 

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Finding the Right Balance Between Volunteering and Meeting Your Introvert Needs

Speaking with strangers about the upcoming vote wasn’t new to me. Sure, it put me out of my comfort zone, but I was okay with that, given how much I supported the issue at hand. I steadfastly believed marriage equality would create a fairer society for everyone. 

But on that particular afternoon when my supervisor asked me, I simply wasn’t up to it. So, I answered, “I’m feeling a bit tired and would rather help with administrative stuff instead, if that’s okay.” He was fine with that, and I knew I’d made the right decision by being honest. 

Volunteering is a tremendously important part of my life, and I’ve been regularly participating in it for the past 15 years. But it’s not always easy to find ways to do it that align with being an introvert. Fortunately, I’ve discovered how to volunteer in ways that make me feel empowered rather than drained, and I’d like to share some with you. 

5 Things to Keep in Mind When Finding Volunteer Opportunities as an Introvert

1. Look for options that allow you to use your strengths.

One of the great things about volunteering is it lets you get involved in activities you genuinely enjoy or support causes that matter to you. A great way to narrow down the options is to think about what you do well and how you like to spend your time. What expertise do you have, and how could it translate into a volunteer role? 

Perhaps the thought of any phone-related tasks make you queasy, but you’d love to create posts for a charity’s social media pages. Alternatively, the best arrangements might relate to somewhere you already visit regularly, such as your child’s school or your loved one’s nursing home.

It’s also wise to keep an eye out for any opportunities that’ll give you new skills to grow the knowledge you have. Then, even though you’re giving your time for free, the things you learn could eventually lead to paid work. 

I’ve gotten most of my volunteer roles by responding to open opportunities listed in a county-wide database. That’s one way to do it, but you should also consider merely making yourself available as a volunteer. 

Send an email to an organization of interest — briefly outline why you’re interested in helping and how you could assist. One of the major advantages of this approach is that it gives you more customization over your participation. You could even say things such as, “Although I’m not comfortable asking strangers for donations, I’d gladly create a webpage to promote your upcoming charity gala.” 

This strategy also works well if you need to make stipulations about your participation. Several years ago, I had some free time and was looking for volunteering options I could do from home on a flexible schedule. I mentioned this to a friend and learned she was working on a volunteer project that sounded perfect for me. She was creating information sheets for refugees and asylum seekers about the relevant processes in various countries. Shortly thereafter, I signed up and found that this role was ideal for utilizing my strong research skills. 

2. Chat with the volunteer coordinator about the specifics of the role.

The details you read or hear about a volunteering opportunity don’t always match up with what you’ll actually do. That’s why it’s best to talk to the volunteer coordinator — ideally, in person — before committing to a role. 

In one of my volunteer positions, I work as a gallery supervisor at a local arts center. That entails welcoming people to new exhibitions and telling them a bit about the pieces or artists. However, when I originally came across the role, the description made it seem like I needed to be an art expert to succeed as a volunteer. 

I’ve strongly appreciated art for my entire life, but have no formal training in it. I wasn’t sure if my background fit what was required. After I emailed to show my initial interest, the center director responded and suggested scheduling an informal meeting. The conversation we had alleviated all my uncertainties, and he confirmed that my strong interest in art made me a great match for the role. 

That role remains one of my favorites — the setting is so peaceful. The gallery is in the center’s basement, in a well-lit and inviting space. I usually volunteer on weekends, when the overall visitor traffic is pretty low. That also suits my introvert needs because it allows me to engage with people, but not to the point where I feel overwhelmed since the gallery is not too crowded. 

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3. Explain what works best for you so the volunteer role suits you better.

There have been a few volunteer opportunities I’ve taken over the years that have made me think to myself, Wow, it’s hard to believe I’m enjoying this so much as an introvert! 

One great example is a weekly session where I’m a tutor in a conversational English class for immigrants. Myself and the other tutors primarily talk to the students about everything from their favorite foods to what they like to do for fun. The goal is to let them practice speaking English in a relaxed setting. 

Combine several dozen students and approximately 10 tutors in a medium-sized room and you can easily imagine how loud — and often chaotic — the setting becomes. Another challenging factor is that the sessions operate on a drop-in basis. I never know how many people will show up or which learners I’ll speak to at each class. Even so, I deeply love this volunteering opportunity and plan to do it for the foreseeable future. 

Communication is the main reason I like it so much, even though some factors aren’t ideal for me as an introvert. More specifically, I regularly talk to the volunteer coordinators and other tutors about simple, yet effective, ways to make the experience more pleasant. 

Sometimes, that has meant limiting the number of students I interact with on a given night. In other cases, I’ve worked with learners one-on-one and away from the main classroom, allowing us to talk in a quieter setting. It’s occasionally even necessary for me to speak to a volunteer coordinator in the middle of a session, admitting it’s all getting to be a bit much and that I need some immediate support. 

Point being, I’ve learned it’s so important to speak up about how to make the circumstances as appealing as possible. Otherwise, people won’t know you might be struggling and how to achieve a better outcome for you. 

4. Prioritize flexible or online options, depending on your social battery.

Most of the volunteering I do now, or have done, involves in-person interactions. But, as much as I generally feel excited and fulfilled about helping out in these roles, I have to be aware of how specific external factors might alter my readiness and enthusiasm. 

Perhaps I’ve had a particularly draining day at work that required attending lots of Zoom meetings and giving input to colleagues I don’t know well. Then, with my social battery already running low, I know it’ll be difficult to find the energy to volunteer later that evening. A related issue is that an overstimulating day triggers migraine headaches for me, so I might not feel physically up to volunteering either. 

These examples emphasize why it’s a good idea to look for volunteering options that don’t require sticking to a set schedule. Similarly, giving your time via an internet-based and Zoom-free volunteering activity could be ideal if you’ve had your fill of socialization for the day — or week! 

So be as clear as possible (boundaries!) when describing what you can (or cannot) do, especially when expressing your desire for flexibility. You could say something like, “I know I can commit to volunteering two hours per week, but the days I can participate will vary.”

For example, I volunteer at a domestic violence refuge, where the managers prefer volunteers to give a minimum number of hours per week. Scheduling myself is a breeze; I do it by handwriting my desired time slot on the schedule during a shift or calling to explain when I’ll be in to volunteer next. That has always worked well for everyone involved, and I hope you can find a similarly beneficial arrangement.

5. Don’t suffer through bad experiences. After all, there are plenty of other ones out there! 

Being an introvert in the workforce can be so tough. I’ve often been in settings that have made me deeply uncomfortable. But I’ve coped with it because my paycheck depended on it. But — and I can’t stress this enough! — as a volunteer, you are giving your time for free. There’s no need to tolerate such unpleasantness. I didn’t immediately take this advice to heart, but I wish I’d have learned it sooner. 

I think the main reason I’ve occasionally stayed too long in volunteering opportunities that weren’t ideal for me is that I hate letting people down. (We introverts tend to be people-pleasers!) I’d go through the anticipated conversations in my head, imagining the volunteer coordinator being disappointed when I’d admit I needed to stop volunteering. But in all the actual situations, people were very understanding, telling me to put my needs first and being grateful for the help I’d given. No one was even the slightest bit upset with me. 

If you have concerns about a particular volunteer position or what the role requires, be upfront about your reservations with the volunteer coordinator. Rest assured, they’ll want you to have great experiences while volunteering and may suggest you take things slowly before making a bigger commitment. 

The domestic violence refuge where I volunteer actually follows that ideology, largely due to the often-intense nature of the work. Everyone who goes through the induction training as a volunteer must spend a specific period afterward thinking about whether the role is right for them. If it’s not, there are no hard feelings. The refuge managers know it’s better to give potential volunteers the time and space to think rather than rushing them into experiences they may later regret and even dread. 

Aside from applying these tips to your volunteering search process, remember, it’s okay (and expected) for your commitment level to fluctuate. That may be due to whatever’s going on in your personal life or just how much you want to give your precious (free) time to others. 

Ultimately, you want to create a balance that lets you gladly participate in volunteering without feeling overtaxed. Reaching that point isn’t always easy, but you’ll almost certainly get there faster by being honest with yourself and others about what you can — and want to — do.

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