Find Volunteer Opportunities in Your Area
You don’t have to wait until the holidays come around to volunteer – but it’s a great time to start! From toy drives to soup kitchens to smoke detector checks, there are hundreds of ways to give back in your own backyard. Here’s how to find volunteer opportunities in your area:
Choose a cause you care about
Volunteering for a cause close to your heart makes giving back even more meaningful. Love animals? Volunteer at a local no-kill animal shelter. Great with kids? Ref for a local kids’ soccer league. Lost a loved one to heart disease? Put together a team for your local AHA Heart Walk. Gone to bed hungry? Feed a local family for the holidays.
Don’t be discouraged if what you’re interested in doesn’t seem to fit the standard volunteer mold. I love English and history and found volunteer opportunities prepping legal aliens for their U.S. citizenship exams and tutoring an Iraqi refugee through her first year of middle school in America. Whatever you’re passionate about, there’s a way to work it into doing good in your neighborhood!
Know your availability
Life is busy, but that’s no excuse to cancel volunteer work you’ve committed to. Look at your schedule before searching for volunteer opportunities. If you have school-aged kids at home or juggle work and school (like me), volunteering on weeknights might not be for you. Decide how often you want to volunteer (daily, weekly, monthly, once or twice a year) and how much time you have to volunteer on any given day (one hour, three hours, all day). If you have the time and flexibility and love kids, consider being a mentor for a child in your neighborhood. If your schedule is super tight, why not raise money and walk for a cause you care about?
Search for opportunities
OK, you’ve chosen a cause and know your availability, now’s the time to find the right volunteer opportunity. Here are some recommendations of where to start your search:
- VolunteerMatch and Create The Good: These sites have volunteer opportunities with more than 100,000 nonprofits around the world. Search the sites by cause and/or location. You can also filter to work with kids, seniors or in groups. If you don’t find something right away, tell them what you’re interested in and sign up for email alerts for when opportunities become available.
- At work: Many companies have volunteer committees that organize group opportunities for employees to give back in their neighborhoods. Some, Valpak included, even offer paid community service days to encourage their employees to volunteer. Email your HR rep or look on your intranet to see what volunteer opportunities you have at work. You may be pleasantly surprised!
- Local news sites: Many neighborhood nonprofits, community centers and churches advertise for volunteers in local newspapers and news websites. Pick up the Sunday paper for the largest assortment or do a search for “volunteer” on your local news website to see immediate volunteer needs in your area.
- National nonprofit sites: To volunteer locally for a national nonprofit, go to its website first. Here, you’ll be able to search for volunteer opportunities by ZIP code or state for smaller organizations. Make sure to sign up for email alerts to stay in the loop on the latest news and ways to give back.
Fill out forms (if needed)
Do you homework before you sign up to volunteer. Many volunteer opportunities, in particular those funded by the government or volunteering with kids, require background checks and/or training. If you participate in a meal-delivery or shuttle service, you’ll most likely be required to get your car checked and submit your driving history. And past trouble with the law, even misdemeanors, can hinder how and where you can volunteer. So, before you schedule volunteer work, ask the coordinator what paperwork (if any) is required and if there’s training or anything else you need to know/do before you show up.
Get out there and give back!
In the poignant words of Weezer: “If you want it, you can have it, all you gotta do is reach out there and grab it.” So reach out today and volunteer in your neighborhood. There really isn’t a better feeling than the one you get selflessly serving others. Have some tips for volunteering in your area? Share them with us in the comments. Thanks for being a good neighbor!