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March 28, 2021

8 min read

Smart ways to find relevant volunteer opportunities

Written by Liz Chibucos

Content writer at Humancreed.com

For volunteers of any experience level, finding the best organization and opportunity is a challenge. But it’s absolutely worth the extra effort. An ideal volunteer opportunity — one that aligns with your interests, skills, goals and availability — will reward you with joy and fulfillment.

You’re probably reading this right now because, like so many others, you hear the call to help your neighbors and improve your community, gain work experience, find new friends or any other reasons to volunteer. But how do you find a volunteer opportunity that actually does some good?

Here at Humancreed, we believe in the power of community service. Our goal is to help people confidently connect to volunteer opportunities. We work directly with charities, nonprofits, coordinators and volunteers to learn what works and what doesn’t. We’ve gained some fantastic insight from our work, including this:

The best way to successfully find volunteer opportunities is to use your skills, share your knowledge and stand by your values.

Now, that sounds really good. But matching up with the right organization is easier said than done. Whether you’re a newcomer or a seasoned volunteer looking for the right fit, you may encounter some obstacles on your path.

With our knowledge and expertise, we’ve developed a guide that will help you find the right volunteering opportunities for you:

  1. Read some tips before you even start volunteering
  2. Get recommendations from family, friends and neighbors
  3. Ask your school, workplace or faith-based organizations
  4. Search for organizations tackling the issues that speak to you
  5. Find volunteer opportunities that are offered seasonally
  6. Contact organizations and coordinators directly
  7. Follow social-justice and volunteer groups on social media
  8. Search for opportunities on volunteer websites
  9. Avoid scams and misleading search results

Read on for more detail on how to find volunteer opportunities that are relevant and rewarding. Get ready. You’ll be taking positive actions for your community in no time!


Before you start volunteering

Perhaps you already know what you’re looking for. But if not, you can find a volunteer opportunity by first determining what drives you and what skills you can offer.

Ask yourself:

  • What drives me to volunteer?
  • Which causes motivate me?
  • What do I want to get out of volunteering?
  • What are my skills and interests that I could apply to volunteering?
  • Which volunteer roles suit me?
  • How much time can I devote to volunteering?

This is just the beginning of things to consider in order to successfully find volunteer opportunities. Check out this article for more detailed advice on how to get started!


How do I find good volunteer opportunities near me?

Thinking about what you’d like to do is a necessary step in the right direction, but actually finding the right volunteer opportunity is the real bread and butter! Once you’ve done some self-reflection, it’s time to get connected with an organization that shares your focus.

Volunteers at Animal Care Center of NYC
Volunteers at Animal Care Center of NYC

Get recommendations from family, friends and neighbors

The best suggestions often come from the people in your life that know you best. Your friends and family members may be able to sense what you might enjoy and what may not be such a good fit for you. Plus, if they themselves are volunteers, they’ve already tested the waters and connected with organizations. 

The people closest to you may very well be your greatest networking resource!

A neighborhood brainstorm session can make everyone feel more connected and offer some fresh insight into community resources available to you. Try an in-person conversation, or jump on a social-media app like NextDoor. What do your neighbors wish was different on your block? Is there a community member that could use assistance? Perhaps your neighbors have already explored some venues that could lead to constructive volunteerism. 

Volunteers at Animal Care Center of NYC
Volunteers at Redwood Empire Food Bank

Ask your school, workplace or faith-based organizations

The institutions that are a part of your everyday life can help you find volunteer opportunities, too.

Schools

Schools, colleges, and universities often require students to complete a certain number of volunteer hours. Student volunteering is a great way to gain initial work experience and learn more about your specific areas of interest while also benefiting your community. 

If you’re in high school, your school counselor is a great person to help you find volunteer opportunities. High schools often have connections to local employers, nonprofits and charities.

If you’re in college, your academic advisor might know about student volunteer opportunities specific to your area of study. Or, you can pay a visit to the department or institute that specializes in social and civil services. San Francisco State University, for example, is home to the Institute for Civic and Community Engagement — the name says it all!

Tip: Are you a member of a club at school? Ask them about volunteering, too!

Workplace

Employers may offer their workers paid time to volunteer. Some have networks of charities and organizations for employees to choose from. Wells Fargo’s philanthropy program is one example. Reach out to your human resources department to learn more about what your workplace offers.

Faith-based groups

Churches, temples, mosques and spiritual centers have long traditions of community assistance. A good chunk of your town’s charitable programs are probably run by local religious organizations. People from all faiths and walks of life are served at places like soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters and resource centers.

If you practice a particular faith, check in with your place of worship to see what connections they have. And if you don’t, faith-based groups can still be great sources for fruitful volunteer opportunities. After all, helping others is a goal that everyone can get behind!

Volunteers at Stony Brook Children's hospital
Volunteers at Stony Brook Children's hospital

Search for organizations tackling the issues that speak to you

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. There are many issues we still need to solve.

An important piece of successful volunteerism is working for a purpose you hold close to your heart.

When you become personally invested in a cause, you gain a stronger sense of satisfaction, pride and belonging.

Below are some of the more prominent volunteering causes. Do you have especially strong feelings about any of these? Follow the links to learn more about each one.

Once you’ve brainstormed the causes that speak to you the most, you can find volunteer opportunities by further researching them.

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. But, it can help you refine your search and discover new local programs!

Volunteers at Women's march (Glide, San Francisco)
Volunteers at Women's march (Glide, San Francisco)

Find volunteer opportunities that are offered seasonally

If you have time during holidays or weekends, check into seasonal and special events. You can volunteer:

  • during holidays (e.g. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Patriot Day, Make a Difference Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
  • during elections
  • at sporting events (e.g. marathons, olympic games, tournaments)
  • at concerts or festivals
  • during disaster season (e.g. fires, flood, drought, hurricane)
  • at zoos, libraries, national forests and more

If you’re looking for a way to make a positive connection with a volunteer organization, volunteering with them during the holiday season is a productive way to start.

Tip: Basic needs don’t go away after the holiday season is over. Once you establish a relationship with an organization, keep in touch with them in other parts of the year when volunteer numbers tend to drop. You’ll be able to maintain a positive relationship and consistently contribute to your community.

Ali volunteering at Common Denominator
Ali volunteering at Common Denominator

Contact organizations and coordinators directly

Sometimes, volunteer opportunities won’t be directly advertised. If you find an organization that really speaks to you, give them a call and have a conversation. A little one-on-one time with someone integral to the cause, like a volunteer coordinator, can go a long way to building a great relationship.

If you do wind up speaking to a coordinator, you should treat it as a job interview. Volunteer coordinators are in charge of recruitment; finding hardworking, trustworthy people is an essential part of their job. It’s important for you to make a good first impression and communicate clearly. 

Getting your foot in the door at a special event might be competitive, but you’ll have a leg up if you’re a student, enthusiast or professional involved in that given industry. Contact coordinators directly, well ahead of time, with a cover-letter type of communication that tells them why you want to volunteer and why you would be a good addition to their team.

Volunteering groups in social networks
"Volunteer in LA" group of volunteers at Meetup.com

Follow social-justice and volunteer groups on social media

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Meetup, Instagram, Google Maps Reviews — you name the platform, we guarantee the good cause you’re fighting for is there. Join groups, Like pages and sign up to receive notifications.

Receiving social-media updates will help you stay informed about upcoming volunteer events. You’ll also learn a lot more about the organization. Knowing how active they are, whether volunteers enjoy working for them and if they help the people they claim to help is all great information when you’re deeming them worthy of your time and support.

Tip: You can also ask your social-media network for volunteering recommendations. Similar to asking family and friends, your friends and followers on social media may have some great insight to pass along.

CTA: Subscribe to Humancreed updates.

Find volunteering opportunities with Volunteermatch.org
Finding volunteer opportunities with VolunteerMatch.org

Search for opportunities on volunteer websites

Some websites are dedicated to facilitating searches for volunteer work: VolunteerMatch, Idealist and Eventbrite are a few examples. They can be a good tool for browsing and brainstorming possibilities when you want to find volunteer opportunities.

However, some users have mixed reviews of their experiences on these sites. Some say they’re good for only finding the more well-established organizations in larger cities. Others say they’ve encountered scams and dead ends. These are the kinds of issues that yours truly, Humancreed, aims to fix.

Long story short, if you’re going to search on one of these sites, know that they can be useful and informative tools. But be sure to practice good online safety and withhold your personal information — just in case!

Tip: Occasionally log off and tune in to those “analog” announcements that are still out there. You could liken volunteer websites to their old-school, offline counterparts — telephone-pole fliers, newspaper listings and community boards in grocery stores and coffee shops. These offline hubs might give you the pulse on valuable volunteer opportunities that aren’t listed online.


Volunteers at Hudson River park

How to avoid scams and misleading search results

When you independently search for a volunteer opportunity, you risk receiving inaccurate, incomplete or outdated information. That can be a real waste of time.

For example, searching for the classic “volunteer opportunities near me” can be a convenient brainstorming tool but can also lead to frustration. Do any of these situations sound familiar to you?

  • Sponsored ads are cluttering your results. You’re only seeing the best-known organizations. It’s tough to determine which websites could actually be useful. You want to get beyond the fluff and actually do something!
  • Another volunteer organization failed to respond to you, leaving your motivation totally drained. Maybe they’re closed. Or perhaps they’re simply unequipped to answer. It’s very possible they want volunteers but don’t have the resources to even communicate how you can help.
  • Your search results tell you organizations’ names but no other details. How can you tell they’re a good fit for you? How do you verify that they’re responsible and ethical?

Part of Humancreed’s work is eliminating hiccups such as these in the volunteer-matching process. But you too can avoid these situations. Understanding your own strengths and objectives will allow you to narrow your options, discover new organizations, communicate effectively and bolster your chances of success.


Volunteers at San Francisco City Impact
Volunteers at San Francisco City Impact

Now go on, get out there!

You’ve given yourself time to brainstorm and self-reflect. You know what you’re good at. You know what you want to accomplish and what drives you. You’ve made phone calls, sent emails, asked for advice, received recommendations. You’ve done your research and you are ready to go. 

Now it’s time to — yes — volunteer!

The final and most crucial step is actually getting out there and doing the work. Volunteering isn’t always sexy — it can be intense, tough, imprecise, and unsettling. But it can also be incredibly gratifying, heartening, informative, and invigorating. The most worthwhile things in life are challenging. We commend your commitment to being the change you wish to see in the world!

As you gain experience and explore different volunteer activities, you’ll learn a lot about your community and yourself. Be open to discovering new interests and meeting new people. Be comfortable with discomfort. The opportunity for growth comes when you stretch yourself into new, untrodden territory.

We hope you have gratifying and productive experiences as a volunteer. Remember to stay true to yourself while you donate your time and energy.

When your volunteerism aligns with your values and creates the world that you want to see, you know you’re in a very special place.

So offer up those skills and talents that make you who you are, get out there and do some good!


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