BY BRIANNE FITZGERALD | Communications and engagement officer, Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service
The greater Des Moines community is a gem. We live in a place where people want to give back and look for ways to make an impact. As we approach the holiday season, there will be many people thinking of ways that they can give back or help others in some way.  

This is a glorious thing, but we need to remind ourselves that the need is great all year round, and there are a number of ways that you can make a big impact all year long.

Start by checking with your place of business to see if they offer volunteer time off (VTO). Many companies do, and the unfortunate truth is that many people are not using their VTO hours. Some of these same companies not only give time off to volunteer, but ask for employees to record their hours so that they may translate that into dollars for those employees to give back to a charity of their choice. Imagine what the impact would be if we all used our VTO, reported our hours, and were able to leverage that time to make a financial impact for organizations we care about without even opening up our wallet. (And, you should open your wallet too if you are able!)  

Did you know that you can put an economic value on the time volunteers give to an organization? Currently this rate is $22.25 per hour in Iowa. So if you are giving back six hours a week as a volunteer for a specific organization, and do so for a year, your value to that organization is about $7,000. Chances are, if you are giving six hours a week, there are others in the same organization giving that much time or even more. If you could translate that into dollars for the organization you care about, wouldn't you want to do so?  

Ask if the organization you are helping tracks their volunteer hours and can show a return on volunteer investment to their funding partners or in their annual reports to their stakeholders. Or, if you could help build the organization's capacity to serve even more by recruiting more volunteers to do what you do, wouldn't that be the ultimate goal? Think of just how much more an organization that you care about could get accomplished in a year if you brought them skilled volunteers who are specialized in areas where they need some extra support -- IT, marketing, graphic design, finance or even grant writing. (And not just board members -- think bigger!)

Lastly, consider assisting with recruiting more passionate people like yourself, helping the organizations where you volunteer retain the great volunteers they already have, and trying things like tracking your hours. If your particular organization doesn't have a mechanism for tracking hours, support them and find a way to create one and leverage those hours. Perhaps you can use them on a grant application or turn them into an employer for a financial donation to your favorite organization.

So encourage your employer to have a VTO policy and advocate to your peers to take advantage of it once they do. If you have children, find ways to give back as a family year-round. For those of you who are already volunteering in our community -- thank you. After all, in 2014, reported that Iowa had over 800,000 volunteers and gave over 69.7 million hours of service. Let's create an even stronger community by using service as a strategy to meet some of our most pressing needs.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love."

Brianne Fitzgerald is the Communications & Engagement Officer with Volunteer Iowa (also known as the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service), that works to improve lives, strengthen communities and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering. She was recently honored as the winner of the YPC Amy Jennings Impact Award in 2015, along with her recognition as a Forty under 40 in 2016. Fitzgerald is an active board member on the Simpson College Alumni Board, the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute, and is the Co-Chair of the Youth Leadership Initiative. She is a mother of three and enjoys her new found love of becoming a dance mom.
Connect with Fitzgerald via email or phone at 515-725-3179. She also is on Facebook and LinkedIn.