Volunteer your talent

Overview

The philosopher Aristotle said the essence of life is “to serve others and do good.”  A growing body of evidence suggests that people who volunteer their time might also be rewarded with better physical health as well as greater happiness and contentment. There are more than 1.8M active nonprofits in the U.S., including everything from your local senior center to global organizations.  As a volunteer you generally won’t be paid, but your reward can be the satisfaction of making a difference in other people’s lives. Such volunteer service encompasses an almost infinite universe of potential activities. Whatever your passion, from saving wildlife to preserving a historic neighborhood to teaching a student who needs some patient instruction – and so much in between - volunteering offers you the opportunity to give back while staying active and productive in your retirement. Whether you are considering volunteering, or have already decided to do so, the information on these pages will provide you with clarity and direction.

Am I right for this?

10 yes/no questions to help you determine if this is a good direction for you

Is volunteering a core part of my personal vision for retirement?

Do I have the time and energy to make a commitment to an organization?  

Am I alright with sharing credit for my contribution and accomplishments?

Am I prepared to report to someone who might have less experience or skills than me?

If tutoring or teaching, do I know how to build an effective lesson plan?  

Am I prepared to interact with individuals who are undermotivated or who have a different work ethic than I do?

Am I prepared to give my time and talent without financial reward?

If I'm working for an organization, am I willing to abide by their policies and procedures?

Am I ok with contributing financially from time to time, if required?

Have I been effective during my career in teaching, mentoring or helping others?

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If you answer six or more “yes,” this is probably a good direction to pursue.

Potential volunteering activities

(per U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

  • Fundraising
  • Tutoring or teaching
  • Collect/prepare/serve food
  • General labor and transportation
  • Tax Preparer - Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)
  • Professional or management assistance
  • Coach, referee, or supervise sports teams
  • Mentor youth
  • Music, performance/other artistic activity
  • Usher/greeter/minister

Volunteer organizations (partial list)

  • United Way
  • Humane Society / animal shelters
  • Food pantries
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Local libraries
  • Museums
  • YMCA
  • Senior centers
  • Red Cross
  • Church/Volunteers of America
  • National Parks
  • Hospitals
  • Homeless shelters
  • Park cleanup/preservation
  • After school tutoring
  • Legal advocate
  • Political campaigns
  • Docent or tour guide
  • Hunger relief
  • Military families and veterans

Large USA charities based on private donations

  • United Way
  • Feeding America
  • Direct Relief
  • Salvation Army
  • St. Jude Research Hospital
  • Habitat for Humanity International
  • YMCA of the USA
  • Compassion International
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America
  • Goodwill

Little known charities that do the most good

  • Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation
  • Panera Cares
  • Animal Rescue Cares
  • Sierra Club
  • Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America
  • Feeding America
  • Wildlife Conservation Network
  • Doctors Without Borders
  • Operation Warm

Q&A

Here are questions and answers that address common issues and concerns for those interested in volunteering their talent.

Question

How do I decide how much time to commit to volunteering?

Answer

One of the big advantages of volunteering is that many organizations will be happy to have you for as much time as you are willing to give, although perhaps with some basic minimum. How much time you want to give is up to you. Have an honest conversation with yourself about how much time you are willing to give up in the context of other activities in your retirement life and have that in mind when you approach the volunteer organization or person.

Question

What are the main considerations in deciding if I should volunteer my time and talent?

Answer

Retirement brings time and options for using that time. Approach this as an exploration where you will discover what may be your true passion, or your true calling, or even simply a good place to give back in a way that benefits you and those you seek to help. To begin, establish basic criteria. How much time can you put in daily/weekly/monthly? Can you travel? Are you willing to put forth effort, energy and talent without being compensated? Will you have expenses such as special clothing or equipment for the volunteer work?

Question

I’m not sure what kind of volunteering I want to do; where do I start?

Answer

If you don’t know where to begin your volunteer journey, you’ll want to take an inventory of your skills, aptitudes, and passions. Being able to pursue your passion through your volunteer work is essential, because you’ll be contributing your life energy and it only makes sense to direct it toward something you feel strongly about or believe in.

Question

Are there ways my volunteer activities can enhance other areas of my life?

Answer

Absolutely! For example, if you want to lose a few extra pounds or stay physically fit, pick a physically active volunteer opportunity. Or, if you've been wanting to take a cooking class, try volunteering at a food bank that teaches cooking. Always wanted to learn carpentry? Consider Habitat for Humanity. This win/win adds to the satisfaction and enjoyment of your volunteering.

Question

Should I be prepared for the volunteer organization to conduct a background check?

Answer

Yes, most organizations, even for their volunteers, have instituted some form of background checks. Depending on the organization and the nature of the work you would be doing, the background checks will be of varying degrees. Some may only go as far as credit checks; others could include personal references and even criminal background. In most cases this is called out in their websites so it’s worth a look if this is a matter of concern.

Question

Is it possible to volunteer abroad as a retiree? What are some things to consider?

Answer

Yes, it’s absolutely possible to volunteer internationally. There are some helpful links in the Resources section below. You will want to determine how physically strenuous the assignment is; the proximity of medical services; associated costs; and, most importantly, the volunteer position should align with something you’re passionate about.

Question

How do I locate organizations that I want to volunteer for, and should I do my own vetting of the organization before joining?

Answer

One you’ve decided what kind of volunteering you want to do, you can use the local library, the internet (try VolunteerMatch.org), and/or old-fashioned personal networking to find organizations that fit your target. Beyond that, you may want to do your own background check of your own by talking with community leaders, people in your personal network or those who’ve worked with the organization to get insight into the organization’s work style, culture and other considerations.

Option Evaluator

Assess this option against the following eight criteria:

Option Evaluator Graphic

Additional resources

Next steps:

Step 1

Determine if it makes sense for you to become a volunteer based on the “Is this Right for Me” section.

Step 2

Have an honest conversation with yourself about whether you are comfortable personally and financially doing unpaid volunteer work.

Step 3

Set parameters regarding the time commitment you are willing to make and, if there is a financial commitment, what you can afford.

Step 4

Decide if you’re comfortable having a background check conducted.

Step 5

Determine your search parameters to find organizations/activities that meet your criteria for:

  • Geography
  • Type of work
  • Focus of the organization
  • Religious/faith considerations
  • Nature of commitment expected
Step 6

Using search engines, directories, or other relevant resources, develop a list of organizations/activities to explore. Of course, if you are interested in tutoring check out area schools and colleges to see if they have formal tutoring programs.

Step 7

Identify from organizations’ websites who is in charge of volunteer recruitment, and/or what the application process entails, and reach out accordingly.

Step 8

Have a resume or bio that you can provide if necessary.

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Get started

Talk to an expert. Explore the options. Dig a little deeper. See if this is right for you.