Dear Patty and Sandy,
I'm your average twentysomething with a boyfriend and friends and a desire to give my time to charitable causes I believe in. I'd very much like to volunteer with a friend, but we're all busy in our different ways. How can I convince a friend that getting together once a week to volunteer at a soup kitchen will bring us closer and benefit our community at the same time?
Claire, I bet that at least one of your local food pantries has evening hours—and serving there once a month with your friend would not only fill an obvious need but allow you to work side by side with other volunteers while learning a lot about your community from the clients that you serve. If that doesn't appeal to your friend, find out what organizations or issues she is already passionate about—what gets her going when she reads the news; what causes does she give to at the office or around the holidays? Compare that list to your own and find a way to focus whatever volunteer or community-action work you pursue as a duo around one of those shared issues. That will make your volunteerism a natural extension of your life, learning, and friendship.
I think it's a great idea to volunteer with friends, especially if that means you'll be prone to do it more often. I try to volunteer a morning a month with a rotating group of friends and colleagues and find it's a great time to catch up on what's going on in their lives and benefit our community at the same time. That said, my group is made up of women who independently decided to volunteer and just happen to be able to do it together. Cajoling, and even guilting, your friend may work, but she may end up embarrassing you when she routinely misses her shift or ends up dropping the gig a month later.
Once a week may be a hefty commitment for lots of twentysomethings (and everyone else!), so why not start by asking your friend to come with you to a one-time volunteer day and see whether you can get her jazzed about it? Sites like Volunteer Match, Idealist, and even Craigslist have good ways to search for opportunities in your area. Or if you feel like you could benefit from some human contact as you choose your cause, there are volunteer centers in almost every community. As my mom said, finding something that you both find interesting and fulfilling could certainly help energize her. Do you both love kids? The beach? Africa? Use this shared interest to find something that works for both of you.
Another idea is to step back from the idea of direct service and volunteer by working on a campaign for a candidate or piece of legislation you care about—or by bringing together a group of friends to talk about different issues. I have a friend whose book club focuses on reading timely, socially conscious books. Actively engaging yourself and those around you in discussions about the world can be just as important as direct service … though it may not satisfy your desire to interact with those in need.
Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it.