Last Updated on January 21, 2024 by Sarah McCubbin
If you are looking for local volunteer opportunities near you, it can sometimes feel challenging to find an organization that is a good fit with your interests and skills. However, there are a few steps to quickly narrow down your choices once you identify the options in your area.
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It would seem like signing up to be a volunteer would be easy. After all, you are working for free! However, as you begin to look for the right volunteer opportunity, you can expect that it feels a little bit like applying for a job when you find the right one.
Volunteer organizations want to make sure that the people serving in their organization are a good fit for their mission in the local community. That means they will often have a volunteer application and training before you are allowed to actually volunteer.
Those extra steps might be cumbersome for young people. Some schools require volunteer service hours as part of their graduation requirement. And if that’s the case, you may not be intending to serve long term.
There are volunteer opportunities with special projects that don’t require a full application and training period. Before you begin looking, it will be important to identify your area of interest, what kind of time commitment you are making to this organization and whether you will do this on a regular basis or just one time.
Where to Look for Volunteer Opportunities Near Me
As you begin looking for nearby volunteer opportunities, you will quickly find a variety of volunteer opportunities…some of which may interest you and some which are not a great fit.
One way to narrow down your choices is to consider the type of organizations that have benefited your family or friends in the past. If your family benefited from someone fixing your home, you may want to repair homes as you volunteer. If you grew up in foster care, you may want to do volunteer work that benefits foster or adopted kids.
If you have unique skills that can benefit an organization, be sure to offer THAT. Every volunteer experience is unique and organizations thrive when local volunteers have a sense of purpose about the way they are contributing!
1. Nonprofit Organizations
As you look for volunteer opportunities, it is important that you focus your efforts on non-profit organizations and NOT businesses. In the United States, by law, in most cases, businesses are not allowed to use volunteer labor. Non-profits can. So, as you begin searching, make sure you are looking in the right place! Contact local nonprofit organizations that align with your interests and inquire about volunteer opportunities.
If you aren’t sure what qualifies as a “non-profit”, the list below has organizations that are usually non-profits and where many people enjoy volunteering.
2. Your Local Neighborhood Groups
In my town, we have a very active online Facebook group. People post everything on there and ask for recommendations all the time. If you have a specific type of volunteering you want to do, ask in that group if someone has a recommendation. You will great local recommendations and often others will validate suggestions others give. You will also find out about opportunities that are not advertised this way.
3. Community Centers
Check with community centers in your area for volunteer programs and initiatives. Depending on your area, these might offer things like a canned food drive, ways to serve the elderly or tutoring programs for kids. Community centers often have diverse ways to volunteer based on the needs in that area.
4. Schools and Educational Institutions
Schools, colleges and universities often have volunteer opportunities. In elementary or even high schools, there are often ways to tutor, help with althletics, do fundraisers, or even help with special maintenance projects. Reach out to schools, colleges, and universities to find out about volunteer opportunities related to education or mentoring.
5. Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities
My husband has worked in nursing homes for more than 20 years as a nurse. When people come to the nursing home to volunteer, they have something the staff does not have…time.
Volunteering in a healthcare facility is a great way to improve the quality of life of residents and patients. It can be lonely for people in nursing homes and hospitals and often the staff have too many patients to sit down and chat with people. Nursing homes and hospitals can be great places for individuals or groups to volunteer. If you are interested in this, contact the facility you want to serve at and ask about opportunities.
Note: Hospitals and healthcare facilities seem to be one of the “gray areas” where people can often volunteer in a facility that may be a “for profit business.”
6. Animal Shelters and Rescue Organizations
Some people prefer to volunteer with animals. This can be done at local shelters or it can be done by fostering animals in your own home. Fostering dogs and cats can often be done for a month or two at a time.
Libraries often have volunteer programs for reading assistance, organizing events, or helping with administrative tasks.
8. Environmental Organizations
Look for local environmental organizations or nature reserves that need volunteers for conservation efforts or clean-up activities. I live near a National Park and often see volunteers working in groups to remove invasive plants, trim up overgrown paths and remove fallen branches. They look like they are having a great time chatting away while they work!
Many churches have volunteer programs that involve community outreach, food drives, or shelter assistance. If you attend a church regularly, they often need volunteers to serve as teachers for the children’s ministry, work in the nursery or greet new familiies.
10. Homeless Shelter
There are many kinds of homeless shelters. Some provide emergency housing in bad weather. And others focus on domestic violence for women and children. Some shelters are non-profits and some exist as part of a city program to help with housing.
At my kid’s school, we have volunteered at a homeless shelter to simply clean and make the beds in the sleeping room. It’s a simple task, but every day the beds are stripped and the bedding washed, so the beds need to be remade daily. The class of kids doing this were in just 6th grade and it provided a wonderful way for them to learn about the lives of people who are on the street and about how we can meet the needs of others in simple ways.
11. Food Banks
Food banks can often use volunteers who can only volunteer once or twice. They can help pack food boxes and help with the food distribution. Our family has helped with food distribution for years and benefited ourselves off and on. Making sure someone has a good meal to eat is a gift that’s hard to appreciate until you have been in need.
12. Senior Centers
Helping at senior centers is a wonderful way to meet new friends and support older people who may need extra assistance. Volunteer at senior centers to provide company, help with activities, or offer support to elderly individuals.
In addition to serving at the senior center, many states that have a variety of organizations where you can volunteer to serve the elderly. Here is a list of organizations with Ohio’s Department of Aging. Many of these are available in other states as well!
As non-profits, museums often have opportunities for volunteers to assist with exhibitions, events, or educational programs.
Depending on the mission and size of the museum, the opportunities can range from administrative work all the way to helping with community events. In our local museum, we see volunteers working in the gift shop and helping with office tasks.
14. Youth Programs and Sports Clubs
Most community sports programs are led by volunteers to keep the costs low for families in the community. If you have a child or grandchild on a team, volunteering to coach or help with a team is a great way to volunteer and stay involved with your kids! Teens that want to volunteer can help run drills or assist the coach in running practices!
Some community youth programs run day camps in the summer which are another great way for teens to help out during summer break.
15. Community Gardens
When philanthropists are doing work in urban renewal, they will often fund installing community gardens. These generous donations may purchase the land, garden structures, lot cleanup and garden supplies to get the garden started. However, to keep a garden maintained requires a LOT of work. Volunteers who love working outside are a great asset to community gardens. Volunteering in a community garden may or may not require preapproval. You may be able to show up at will and do the community service hours you need.
16. Social Service Agencies
Agencies like your local Children’s Services organization can benefit from volunteers. When my kids were in foster care, there were volunteers who came in to organize the clothing and supply closet, set up for trainings and did other tasks as needed. One of my favorite things the agency volunteers did was organize and collect gifts for the kids in care.
My kids would get a HUGE bag filled with wrap gifts that had been donated. Being a foster parent is stressful and knowing that I didn’t need to provide ALL the gifts lifted a huge burden.
17. Volunteer Match Websites:
Online platforms like VolunteerMatch.org can be used to search for local volunteer opportunities based on your interests and location. Of course not all opportunities will be available on those sites.
Sarah McCubbin, founder of Ten Minute Momentum, is dedicated to helping parents confidently parent their kids by teaching life skills, social skills and leadership skills. As a child she was the kid that never quite fit in and is on a mission to help others understand the building blocks we all need to be successful adults. She lives in Ohio with her husband Mike, and 9 kids ranging in age from 5 to 21 where they use homeschool, private school and public schools for their kids education!