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Five Steps to Making a Difference in Your Community

Before you pull out your checkbook and write another donation check to a national organization this year, it may be beneficial to look first at local volunteer opportunities that will positively affect those living in your neighborhood and the greater good of your community.

Colleen O‘Connor, owner of the Elements Massage Louisville East studio, recently felt the need to elevate her community service involvement from just donating massages, money and so on over the years. After going through the process of figuring out what was important to her personally and finding an organization that was a good fit for both her and her studio, O‘Connor is on her way to making a local impact for the Family Scholar House, an organization that provides resources for single moms to succeed.

“I've always contributed to donation requests from the community. But over the years, I started feeling like I would really like to find a local organization to get involved with and make a difference,” O‘Connor said. “It’s important to be connected and grounded to the community. As a business owner, you get caught up in the minutia of day-to-day business. But getting involved in the community makes you feel connected to something bigger than yourself.”

With so many local and national non-profit organizations available to choose from, it may seem like a lot of effort at first to find an organization that will be a good fit for you both personally and professionally. By simply following the five steps below you will be on your way to making a difference in your community.

Step One: Pinpoint Your Top Interests
Whether you are passionate about rescuing animals, helping the homeless, providing services for women and children or volunteering at schools, the first step is to find a non-profit that matches your interests. If you aren’t sure about what interests you, start by making a list of your three favorite activities or things to do. Use this initial list to pinpoint your top interest to focus on. Or, if you already know your top passion like Mark Mills, owner of the Elements Massage studio in Boulder, Colo., move full-speed ahead in finding an organization that matches your passion.

“I have been in massage therapy for 23 years and have been a competitive athlete for 30 years in long distance running,” Mills said. “Volunteering in our local racing community was a natural succession. It just makes sense to volunteer in an area that you feel passionate about.”

Step Two: Do Some Research
A lot of non-profits are so busy focusing on helping others that they may fly under the radar in regard to advertising and getting the word out about their organization. An initial online search can be an easy first step to uncovering and vetting organizations. Mills also suggests leveraging the resources at your Chamber of Commerce to make initial connections within your community, as well as reading community bulletin boards to get a finger on the pulse of your city.

Step Three: Reach Out to Your Networks
The most meaningful and fulfilling community service projects are the ones that have a personal connection. O‘Connor was connected with her community organization through a massage client who plays a key role in the charity. After the initial introduction from her client, O‘Connor met with the charity’s board and educated herself about the charity to determine whether the organization would be a good fit for her personally and professionally. Today, O‘Connor is continuing to grow her relationship with her charity, while giving back to her local community.

“A lot of our clients are making a difference in the community,” O‘Connor said. “I’m grateful that I took the first step to connect with my client and her non-profit organization.”

Step Four: Make a Realistic Commitment
Whether you have weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly availability to get involved in the community, be honest to yourself and your charity about the time you have available to help. Also, it’s important to remember that making an initial appointment with an organization doesn’t mean you’re committing to that organization. These are just fact-finding meetings to gather more information and decide whether it’s a good fit for you and the organization.

Step Five: Start Making a Difference Today
Start today by taking the first step toward doing something great for your community. It may sound like a lot of effort at first. But focus on keeping it simple and taking one step at a time to start making a difference. And remember, when you aren’t focused on yourself, you can get so much more out of your life.

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