March 28, 2021
16 min read
Americans volunteer an average of 52 hours on an annual basis, approximately an hour a week. When you multiply that by the 77.34 million Americans estimated to have volunteered in 2018, that results in 4.21 billion hours of volunteer work each year!
Americans who volunteer tend to stick with one organization and devote the bulk of their time to that specific place or project. This indicates that people donate their time and energy because they care about specific causes like hunger, human rights and environmentalism.
What volunteering causes do you hold close to your heart?
Do you have personal experiences that light a fire inside you?
Do you know what cause you want to focus on, but are unsure of what role you could play as a volunteer?
This article offers an overview on 13 common volunteering causes, including descriptions of the issue, effects it has on individuals and communities, and suggested volunteer opportunities for each.
It is Humancreed’s mission to provide people with valuable information to facilitate volunteerism and community service.
In this article, we’ll explore the following volunteering causes:
Even though you’ll find useful and pertinent information in this article, we will only be skimming the surface. Each of these volunteering causes is an intricate and deep societal issue. There is a reason why these continue to exist throughout the structure of our society.
Choosing volunteer causes that motivate you is the best way to focus your efforts and be productive. So let’s get going! Read on to discover new passions and new ways to help your community.
Food scarcity, on the other hand, is a consistent shortage of the most basic food requirements. Enough food exists in the world to feed every single human, yet hundreds of millions of people go hungry each day. Scarcity is most commonly caused by adverse environmental conditions or uneven distribution of resources.
Food insecurity is related, but not limited, to poverty. Certain Americans are disproportionately affected.
Hunger is a widespread, serious systemic problem that has grim societal consequences.
Since food is an absolute life necessity, food-insecure households must constantly make the choice between feeding their families and supplying other basic needs like medical care and housing costs. This leads people into an unending cycle of debt.
Malnutrition leads to serious health issues like cardiovascular disease and susceptibility to preventable illnesses. Every year, around 9 million people around the world die from hunger-related problems.
Both short-term and long term (high-impact) methods are needed in order to fight hunger.
Short-term activities will treat the symptoms but won’t get at the problem’s root. High-impact activities are those that aim to change the system for the better but may not yield immediate results.
As a food bank volunteer you could donate your time by:
To assist in other ways, you could also:
Until the system does change for the better, food banks are a helpful resource for people who are experiencing varying degrees of hunger.
Early childhood education is an essential part of a child’s overall development. Young children must receive a good dose of the following:
The first eight years of a child’s life are important ones, when the bulk of the physical and cognitive development actually takes place. If children have access to good early education, they’ll reap the benefits:
If circumstances like unstable family life, abuse or neglect occur, these important developments are interrupted in children.
This is the fight for animals’ rights to live without being exploited, mistreated, abused or killed. Animal advocates focus on the various ways humans and animals interact. Some common causes include:
Advocates for animals maintain that the way we treat animals is a direct reflection on us as a society and as humans.
For example, there is a strong correlation between domestic violence and animal abuse.
The fight for animal rights is waged on many fronts — at the one-on-one, local, state, national and international levels. There are a lot of ways you can make a difference.
In the United States, approximately 1.4 million people live in skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). People are usually admitted to nursing homes or assisted living facilities (ALFs) because they’ve lost the ability to live independently.
People in SNFs are more likely to be experiencing a disability than people still independently living in their own home.
As we get older, our physical and mental wellbeing tend to decline. However, there are some unique issues for the elderly that should not be accepted as “normal aging”:
Seniors often feel mental health effects on senior citizens are often brought on by their sense of feeling betrayed when their family moves them to nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. This can intensify already existing mental-health concerns or cause new concerns to develop an SNF or ALF.
If senior citizens feel like they’ve lost their sense of purpose, like they’re bored, lonely or unable to exert themselves, a volunteer might be just what they need.
Consider these ideas for volunteering with senior citizens.
As a senior companion, you could:
Here is some more information on becoming a senior companion.
Advocates for the environment promote biocentric issues and encourage responsible stewardship over Earth’s resources. Environmentalists maintain that these issues must remain at the top of our priority list, because without a healthy planet where humans can live, all other progress is moot.
Some common issues related to environmental advocacy are:
One of the most pressing issues of our time is climate change. In 2020, the highest percentage ever — 81% of Americans — thinks Earth has warmed over the last 100 years, and 76% of Americans think temperatures will continue to rise over the next century if we don’t do anything to counteract it.
Because most items in the above list are big societal issues, the more effective solutions to environmental issues involve legislation and global partnerships. However, like most volunteering causes, a lot of progress can be made at the local level to gradually sway public opinion and influence the direction of things.
Access to health services is another important topic for many people.
Americans in particular have barriers to receiving affordable, quality care. That is something a lot of people want to change.
Common issues with healthcare include:
When there is an overall lack of access to healthcare, people do not receive as many preventative services. This means problems are diagnosed much later than they should be, leading to earlier mortality.
Other consequences include:
All of these place the burden of cost back on society and facilities, perpetuating rising healthcare costs.
Medical and non-medical volunteers can contribute a great deal, through roles such as:
As a hospital volunteer, you could:
Volunteering in the health sector is another fantastic way to give people some relief. You’ll be able to directly see how you’re really making a difference on a face-to-face level.
Literacy is one of the main factors that allows people to continue to learn, grow and develop throughout their lives.
Some common causes of low literacy rates include:
Unfortunately, literacy in the United States is not in great shape. As 2017 statistics tell us, 45 million Americans read at or below a 5th-grade reading level, making them “functionally illiterate.”
Literacy is an element that passes from one generation to the next. If a parent was raised to enjoy and value reading, their children will most likely have high literacy. But the opposite is also true.
Low literacy has a broad range of serious consequences:
A general lack of access to opportunity and upward mobility is the key detriment. A person who struggles with a low literacy rate will have a hard time getting good-paying work and enriching their life through further education and hobbies.
Whether children are struggling in school, or adults are playing a bit of catchup, volunteering in the education sector can lead to real, lasting change that will improve people’s lives. There are many options, including but not limited to:
As a library volunteer, you could:
Teaching people how to read, improving reading skills and giving people access to reading material is important and valuable work.
Many people take advantage of crisis support services each year in the United States. In 2019, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline received 2.3 million phone calls.
Crisis support is not limited to suicide prevention. There are a number of reasons why people may need crisis services.
Sometimes, people experience overwhelming events in their lives. They may require support beyond their own coping abilities and beyond what friends and family can offer them.
No matter people’s current circumstances or how they got there, crisis-support volunteers can have positive and lasting impacts. There are many ways to support people going through crisis, including but not limited to:
As a suicide prevention hotline volunteer, you could:
Many crisis call centers also offer continuing education to their volunteers. You could learn to work with different segments of our diverse population and offer people culturally competent assistance.
Large-scale emergencies like hurricanes, food shortages and epidemics (like the COVID-19 pandemic) leave large numbers of people in danger and lacking basic life necessities.
However, disasters also bring out the best in us, with many people reaching out to help when support is urgently needed.
Disasters are generally grouped into six categories:
Disasters can happen at any moment. We sometimes have advanced warning that they’re coming, but other times we’re taken by surprise. One thing is for sure — volunteers can make a real difference during these trying times.
Disaster relief doesn’t only happen in the midst of emergencies. There are four stages of disasters, and every stage requires help from volunteers:
If you want to be a disaster relief volunteer, the best thing you can do is affiliate with an organization and complete training in times of peace, before a disaster occurs.
As a volunteer firefighter, you could:
The Fire Corps is an organization that is open to different ideas for volunteering. Contact them and share your special skill sets, knowledge and interests to see how you can help.
Homelessness, referred to by some as houselessness, is a complex issue to try and define. It includes the many hundreds of thousands of people who do not have shelter meant for human habitation, or who move from house to house with no end in sight.
The main reasons people become homeless are:
Homelessness has increased in 2020, even prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Homelessness has negative effects on the individuals who experience it, and on society at large. Homeless people experience:
Society also experiences increased crime rates and unnecessary expenditures of tax dollars.
It costs way more to arrest, hospitalize and imprison homeless people than it would to engage in preventative, health-based measures. Homelessness requires us to set aside our tendency toward a putative justice system.
As a homeless shelter volunteer, you could:
Over 50 million people are residents in neglected or dilapidated neighborhoods. People in these situations often experience a reduced quality of life, with additional barriers to accessing services and opportunities.
Common neighborhood issues are:
Some of these issues are more easily fixed than others.
One thing is for sure — the best results happen when the community pulls together as a cohesive unit and works to improve their neighborhood.
It may go without saying, but living in a community where everyone feels safe and supported is very important.
Neighbors that have an ongoing collective commitment to the health of the neighborhood and its residents will establish a stable community. And stable communities lead to:
When people build a sense of community and togetherness, they collectively experience a better quality of life.
Strengthening your own neighborhood is a great opportunity to offer your unique set of skills and knowledge. There are many areas of improvement that every neighborhood could benefit from.
The list doesn’t stop here. Get creative and contribute your own talents and interests to your neighborhood!
As a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, you could:
These are known to all as the basic, inherent rights that all humans have. These are deep and complex topics, each with centuries of conversation and study devoted to them. We’ll give you the most valuable introduction to each of these volunteering causes that we can.
People experience disability in a variety of ways. There are hundreds of disabilities, of varying degrees, and people with disabilities make up an incredibly broad and diverse group.
However, people with disabilities do tend to share certain experiences and frustrations. Here are some common issues people with disabilities experience:
These access limits and barriers can lead to people not being able to do the most basic, everyday things, like going to a park or voting.
As a Be My Eyes volunteer, you could:
You may have noticed a lot of overlap in the root causes and consequences of these issues. That’s no coincidence.
Imagine the domino effect of eliminating world hunger, for example. The root causes of hunger would need to be addressed — those root causes are intersectional with poverty, human rights, environmentalism and global cooperation.
What would that mean?
This interdependence is known as intersectionality. It’s an important concept that helps us make sense of people’s lived experiences and root causes of structural issues.
When you write a letter to your state representative about stronger domestic violence legislation, you may also be pulling a woman back from the brink of homelessness.
When you volunteer to clean trash from a river to protect the environment, you’re also protecting the human right to access clean drinking water, which in turn disproportionately affects people of color.
Your contributions to volunteering causes — and for that matter, your daily life decisions — have lasting, cross-sectional effects for people experiencing a wide range of struggles.
Take pride in that the next time you’re volunteering!