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So you’ve pinned down your values, but how do you put them into action? Well, depending on your priorities, there may be many different ways for your personal values to show up in your life. One such way might be diving into one (or several) types of volunteer work.
Most people have a few causes that are close to their hearts, but either don’t have money to spare for associated charities, or simply prefer to be more hands-on.
There are many different types of volunteer work with a range of accessibility. One volunteer position might have you being more active outdoors, while another might involve handling paperwork in a nonprofit office.
Volunteering is rewarding in many ways. It connects you to a community, gives you a sense of purpose, and can help you build various skills. Not to mention it looks impressive on your resume!
Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can help make the world a better place.
Note: this list is largely focused on opportunities in the United States.
Types of Volunteer Work at a Glance
Click on any volunteer category to jump to that section.
- Senior Citizens
- The LGBTQIA+ Community
- The Unhoused Population
- The Environment
- Volunteering While Traveling
- Virtual Volunteering
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss
1. Volunteer with Youth
For those with a passion for kids, there’s no shortage of volunteer opportunities.
If you want to volunteer with kids, try:
- After School Programs – Many after school programs use volunteers. Check your local programs for opportunities today!
- Coaching Youth Sports – If you’re athletic and well-versed in youth football, soccer, baseball, basketball, and so on, consider coaching a local team! Most community sports coaches for youth are volunteers, and many find it a rewarding experience. Check your city’s parks and recreation department for opportunities.
- Libraries – Many libraries offer youth services, and may be looking for volunteers like you! Ask your local library if they need volunteers for their children’s programs.
- Mentoring – Big Brothers Big Sisters, as well as various foster youth programs, need volunteers to be a consistent and guiding presence in a child’s life.
You can also offer to babysit for free, helping out parents who might not be able to afford childcare otherwise.
2. Volunteer with Senior Citizens
Did you know that more than 1/4 of senior citizens in the U.S. live alone?
If you have a heart for older generations, you can create a profile on Elder Helpers, which will connect you to seniors in need of help with a variety of tasks. You can choose what types of volunteer work you want to do with seniors, from running errands, to cooking and cleaning, to simply spending time with them.
Meals on Wheels delivers free or low cost meals to homebound seniors across the United States. You can volunteer with them as a delivery driver, or in your local program’s office. Some Meals on Wheels locations also offer congregate lunches, which are a great place to foster a sense of community for lonely seniors.
My first ever volunteer position was with my local Meals on Wheels program, where I did paperwork in the office half the time and volunteered with the congregate meal program the rest of the time. I recommend it highly for people who have a heart for seniors – it was a life changing experience and I got to know dozens of people from older generations who had interesting stories to share and were always brightening my day.
You can also volunteer with your local retirement center or hospice, which may need help with activity programs for seniors, serving meals, or simply spending time with lonely elders.
3. Support the LGBTQIA+ Community
Whether or not you’re queer or trans yourself, you may want to get involved with the community to show support.
Particularly in places where homophobia and transphobia are rampant, there is a need for active allies to those of marginalized genders and sexualities.
- Gender Spectrum
- ILGA World – The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association
- SAGE – Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders
- The Human Rights Campaign
- Trans Lifeline
- Transgender Law Center
- Trans Student Educational Resources
4. Support the Unhoused Population
One of the most commonly thought of types of volunteer work is helping people experiencing homelessness.
More than half a million people experience homelessness in the U.S. today – comparable to the population of Wyoming!
Volunteer at your local shelter or food bank to help people in need.
- ShelterBox is an organization that provides aid to people after a natural disaster.
5. Volunteer at a Hospital
Your local hospitals are often in need of volunteers! Contact your local providers to see what opportunities are available in your area.
Donate blood or plasma! Another great way to get involved in the medical area is to donate blood or plasma, which are always needed. You can also join the Be The Match registry, which will contact you if you are a match to donate life-saving bone marrow to someone.
6. Volunteer to Help Refugees
The UN Refugee Agency is a worldwide organization that works to provide shelter, protection, health services and advocacy for refugees around the globe. Volunteer with them in a variety of roles to help refugees everywhere!
You can also volunteer with the International Rescue Committee, in dozens of opportunities across the United States.
7. Environmental Volunteering
When it comes to helping the environment, some things you can do on your own, like simply taking a walk and picking up any trash you see along the way.
If you’d like to join an actual organization as a volunteer, there are plenty to choose from!
The Sierra Club offers a variety of volunteer opportunities both at home and in-person. (Note: At the time of this article’s posting, all volunteer positions are limited to being virtual due to the ongoing pandemic.)
Greenpeace is another renowned environmental group you can volunteer with in several ways – one of which being as easy as texting the organization’s supporters and encouraging them to take action on current issues.
Many other environmental groups offer easy ways to take action by simply signing petitions – set aside an hour or so of your time, grab your computer, and make your voice heard!
Take Action with these groups:
- Friends of the Earth
- Green America
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- The Nature Conservancy
- The Rainforest Action Network
- The Wildlife Conservation Society
- World Wildlife Fund
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” –Anne Frank
8. Volunteer with Animals
If you’re an animal lover, being an animal shelter volunteer can be very fulfilling. You’ll get to work with lost or stray animals, help rehabilitate abused or neglected pets, and find them new loving homes.
It’s not for the faint of heart, as many animals may be distressed and suffering from poor health or trauma, but it’s something that many volunteers find rewarding.
Zoos are also great places to check for volunteer opportunities. You might have the opportunity to work hands-on with the animals, or be a docent, educating visitors about the different species that are cared for there.
Many wildlife centers also offer volunteer positions, from animal care to administrative tasks.
9. Volunteer to Support Education
Museums are a great place to volunteer if you’re looking to support education. You can be a docent, or help with administrative tasks.
Or, ask your local schools if they have volunteer work. Some have positions for volunteer tutors, or help with after school programs. You can also volunteer to chaperone field trips and other events.
Libraries often have volunteer opportunities, as well. Check your local library to see if they could use your help!
10. Volunteering While Traveling
Want to make a difference while traveling the world?
Give a Day Global lists volunteer opportunities that only require one day of your vacation!
If you’re looking to make volunteerism the heart of your vacation, Discover Corps allows you to book international trips through their website that are centered around volunteer work.
Volunteer World is another great site that connects you to hundreds of opportunities to volunteer abroad.
(Note that international volunteer opportunities often come with a fee to pay for your travels and any accommodation the program may provide.)
For the eco-friendly travelers out there, WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) connects you to sustainable farms you can volunteer on during your travels.
There is an annual fee to join the WWOOF program, the price of which is dependent on the country, but once you’re there, most farms will host you on site for free. The level of dedication varies with each farm, so browse listings for opportunities that will align with your travel goals.
11. Virtual / Online Volunteering
Crisis hotlines are a popular method for virtual volunteerism.
Organizations like The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and The Trevor Project will train you on how to help callers, and while the work can be emotionally intense, you’ll have the power of knowing you were there for someone who might not have had anywhere else to turn.
Check out Volunteer Match for more virtual volunteering opportunities, ranging from help with an organization’s social media accounts, to online paperwork, to being a translator and more!
I hope at least a few of these volunteering ideas sparked your passion and make you feel empowered to make a difference.
And now, I leave you with this quote:
Oh, and one last thing: try not to overextend yourself. You might feel many causes tugging your heartstrings, but real self care means knowing how much of your time you can devote to others while prioritizing the time you need to rest and take care of yourself.
Riley, he/they pronouns