No matter who you are, what your skills are, or how much time you have available, there are so many kinds of volunteer opportunities that may suit you.
Direct service opportunities allow you to engage with a particular community or get hands-on experience with a specific issue. They’ll vary in difficulty, time commitment and skill level. Examples of direct service include taking tickets at events, leading museum tours, serving as a translator for recent immigrants at a social services agency and tutoring elementary school kids.
Skilled volunteering and pro bono service
For many organizations, specialized skills or services are prohibitively expensive. Skilled volunteering and pro bono work (offering professional services for free) is therefore particularly valuable to supporting their operations and programs. In addition to the common pro bono service in fields of law and medicine, organizations may need expertise in areas such as business development, technology, engineering, fundraising, and conflict resolution.
Virtual volunteering (or e-volunteering) involves supporting an organization’s mission via your computer or mobile phone. It offers flexible scheduling, the opportunity to help from the comfort of your home, and a chance to work remotely with an organization beyond your own community. Skills for Change and UN Volunteers are two organizations that specialize in virtual volunteering.
Board service is a vital volunteer role for nonprofit organizations that entails significant responsibilities. In the United States, all nonprofits are legally required to have a board of directors, who serve as fiduciaries for the organization, ensuring that the financial practices of the organization are sound. BoardSource, a comprehensive resource on board service, offers a thorough overview of the responsibilities of a board member.
Why serve on a board? In addition to the support it provides to an organization, board service is an opportunity to hone your leadership skills, network with other nonprofit leaders in your community, and learn about governance and management issues unique to the nonprofit sector, such as pursuing ambitious goals with limited financial resources.
Do It Yourself (DIY) volunteering
If you’ve struggled to find a volunteer opportunity that matches your interests and availability, or are currently volunteering and have an idea for a new project, consider Do It Yourself (DIY) volunteering.
Before you venture down this road, explore the possibility of partnering with an existing organization. Here are some tips for talking with an organization:
- Make sure you’re fully committed to the project before you approach the organization. Dropping the ball or doing a poor job can result in a damaged reputation for both you and the organization.
- Be specific about how your project advances their mission and share your ideas on how to work together.
- Talk about the skills, experiences, and connections you are bringing to the table.
- Expect some wariness or caution on the part of the organization. If you’re approaching them out of the blue, a period of “getting to know you” time might be required, if they’re open to it. They may not have the capacity or resources to focus on your project.
As for your project, here are some things to think through:
- Ideal outcome: what does a successful project look like?
- Skills and resources: is project management, marketing experience or specialized knowledge required? What tools or materials are needed?
- Team: can you handle the project on your own, or will you need to recruit volunteers to join you?
- Assessment: how will you track progress and measure success?
- Long-term: is this a one-off or ongoing project? Who will take on the project should you decide not to continue?
Volunteering beyond your own community
Spending your next vacation, holiday, or break from school volunteering in another region in your home country is an opportunity to explore a new community and meet people with diverse life experiences. You can acquire skills that you can’t explore at home, such as farming if you live in a city. Typical opportunities beyond your community include traveling to assist in disaster relief efforts from a hurricane and signing up for a Habitat for Humanity project during a college spring break. Volunteering away from home — but perhaps without having to learn an entirely new language, currency, or legal system - is also a great stepping stone to volunteering abroad at some future date.