In every community, there is a common factor that brings many different groups or individuals together, whether it’s as simple as living in a common geographic area or having a common vested interest.

Though the focus is often on the community itself, we can’t undermine the importance of the individual in a community. The greatest communities are propelled by the voluntary actions and initiatives of individuals. Some people are natural leaders. Others want to contribute specific talents and gifts to become an important piece of contributing to a common goal.

The beauty of the individual contributing to community is that it’s not out of pressured obligation or requirements, but rather it’s an expression of voluntary collaboration and contribution. The individual is giving their free time and energy. In return this person gains a sense of belonging, a satisfaction of helping others, or perhaps is driven by some other personal motivation. For this reason, it’s important to recognize that individuals are motivated by different factors. In understanding this, volunteer opportunities can be tailored toward respecting the differences of individuals and providing an opportunity for these various talents. Individuals have unique gifts and skills. You wouldn’t want to waste your efforts trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, would you?

By understanding and validating your own personal unique gifts and skills, it will help you to find your own path toward contributing in a community.

There will often be times in which a person feels like they don’t fit in to the community they live in. Often a community doesn’t validate and recognize every unique talent and skill that individual members have to offer. It can be easy to become discouraged when you have something unique to offer but feel like you don’t fit in. However, it’s likely that you aren’t alone. There may be others just like you in the community that feel the same way but simply don’t have an outlet. If this is the case, then it’s important to step up to the plate and start your own community outlet.

For example, maybe supporting local businesses is very important to you but you live in a community in which the majority of people shop only at the big national chain stores. It may not be that others don’t care about local businesses, but perhaps they simply haven’t given their shopping habits a second thought. You could work with local business owners to create a local business awareness organization. Come up with a logo and name that unifies every local business participant’s shared interest in getting the community to support local businesses. Put up signs and decals in front of the participating shops to show that they are locally-owned to catch the eye of shoppers. You could even start a discount program that offers special promotions and pricing on products only at participating local businesses during certain months of the year, incentivizing locals to shop at the local establishments. These examples are based on successful models I have seen that worked in many communities.

The important thing is that it’s often an individual that wants to see a specific change for the better and make it happen in their community. Sometimes it requires that individual to be motivated to take an initiative to see it happen. By recognizing your own unique skills and talents, you will find that motivation for yourself and get outside and start contributing rather than being discouraged that your community doesn’t seem to represent the issues that are important to you. Nothing will weigh down on your motivation more than to find the wrong volunteering opportunity when it’s something that you honestly aren’t interested in. It’s best to know what’s important to you to find your compass for where and how you can best contribute, although it never hurts to try a few opportunities out first to see if it sparks an interest. There are plenty of opportunities to contribute for individuals with a variety of personal values and motivations.

You don’t always have to be a go-getting leadership oriented community activist and start your own group either. There may already be certain established groups and organizations in your community that you can simply join and contribute to. The challenge is finding them. Be resourceful and you may be surprised by what you find. I would recommend starting with our 15 Places to Connect in your Community guide. It’s a great outline of where to start.

So remember to understand that your unique individuality doesn’t mean you have to be estranged from your community, but that you have something unique to offer and give to others in your community. A community that respects the individual will naturally tap in to the motivations and talents of all individuals that are a part of it.