There are plenty of reasons to volunteer your time for a good cause. I do it because I believe in the work, and while that’s enough for me, I certainly get a lot more out of it than I initially expected. I have volunteered for most of my adult life rescuing dogs and assisting in animal shelters. In addition to this gratifying work, I’ve also learned web design, public relations, and copyediting – all career skills that have bolstered my resume, made me more hireable, and turned me into a more effective worker.
If you find yourself with some extra time on your hands, why not consider committing a few hours to community service and putting that extra shine on your resume? Who knows, you may learn an entirely new set of talents to bump you up a pay grade or two.
Tax Benefits of Volunteering
The time you spend volunteering might not be tax deductible, but out-of-pocket expenses related to volunteering are. Are you planning to travel outside your home city for a volunteer opportunity, such as natural disaster relief? If so, travel costs, hotel, car rental, and food are all tax deductible, as long as the sole purpose of the trip is to volunteer. If you use your personal car for volunteering, that’s another deductible expenses. You can choose to deduct other unreimbursed expenses, such as gas, or you can deduct a flat $0.14 per mile.
There are a couple stipulations for being able to deduct volunteer-related expenses. The organization you volunteer for must be classified as a 501(c)(3) charity. Plus, you’ll need proper documentation from the charity for any itemized expense over $250.
Tax-related issues can be complicated. Luckily, there are experts available who can help guide you through the tax filing process. Make sure you check out our seven favorite tax preparation software and services.
Where to Volunteer Your Time
Check out these 10 nonprofits for excellent volunteer opportunities that require no previous experience:
1. Animal Rescue Shelters
Local animal shelters almost always need volunteers. Brush up your office skills by answering emails, fielding phone calls, and providing general administrative assistance. Try making some connections among the staff or offering your dog walking services to the pet owners-to-be who pass through. It makes for a great part-time job, and could even turn into a full-time venture – professional dog walkers can make upwards of $50,000 a year in New York City, according to NPR. Perks such as staying active and having the happiest clients in the world are hard to beat.
2. National Parks
Volunteering at a national park means more than just cleaning up litter. If you’re a history buff or a naturalist, you can explore opportunities to work at fascinating historical sites maintained by the National Park Service. If you’re in New York, look into the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historical Site, or consider Alcatraz Island, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California. It would be a permanent talking point to break out at parties, and might open the door to further opportunities.
3. Food Pantries
Food pantries and soup kitchens can always use a helping hand organizing a local food drive, raising money, or simply handing out hot meals to those in need. Offer any specific skills you may have, such as copyediting, data entry, or even cooking, and you can be of great value to these organizations. Check out FoodPantries.org to search for one near you – and bolster your resume with any relevant experience you may acquire.
4. Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity offers various locally targeted volunteer opportunities. If you have – or want to develop – experience in home repair and building maintenance, check out its A Brush With Kindness campaign or the Women Build program, designed specifically to help women learn construction skills. Your experience can contribute directly to team-building and leadership ability – plus, you might eventually find yourself able to remodel your own home, saving a bundle there as well.
5. Local Libraries
When I was a teenager, I volunteered at my local library for a few hours a week for a school project. I liked it so much that I ended up volunteering every week and developed a life-long love of books, as well as an appreciation for learning and reading. Libraries typically need help organizing shelves and assisting patrons, and you may also be of help setting up and running public events, such as author signings and book fairs. Ask your local library if you can help design flyers or copyedit ads, and put that experience on your resume.
6. Art Museums
If you’re artistically inclined, working in a museum can be an invaluable experience. You can surround yourself with timeless works of art, soak up knowledge, and acquire administrative skills all at the same time. Get involved in the community by volunteering for family programs and children’s activities at your local museum, and once you build up your knowledge base, you may qualify to be a tour guide or event planner.
7. Political Campaigns
If you’re passionate about politics, consider lending your support to a local candidate you feel good about. No politician gets elected without volunteers manning the phones, distributing fliers, raising money, and answering emails. This kind of work can provide you with valuable experience on many levels and can be applied to a host of different industries. It can also help you establish a network of contacts you can draw on if you have, or are interested in, a political career.
At the YMCA, you can volunteer to help both children and adults, strengthen your leadership skills by coaching a sports team, or pick up some valuable teaching experience by tutoring literacy courses. Check your local YMCA’s website, or simply walk in and introduce yourself to find out if there are any positions they need filled, or any one-time activities you may can assist with to help get your foot in the door.
9. Retirement Homes
Retirees love an exciting new lecture to attend or class to teach them something fun and interesting, so be creative and develop a program that shows off your skills. Are you good at public speaking, or do you want to get better at it? Ask to recite some famous historical speeches, or to moderate a poetry reading. If you’re good with computers, lend your services and teach senior citizens how to perform basic or intermediate computer tasks. Chances are, they want to learn, but no one has ever taken the time to give them the proper instruction.
10. Red Cross
The American Red Cross offers an extensive list of positions that can help those in need and bolster your resume at the same time. If you don’t feel like giving blood, why not greet and assist customers looking to do so? Your skills may make you a good fit for grant writing, performing clerical tasks, or managing other volunteers. If you’ve got the drive, you can draw on any number of talents to help the Red Cross – who would turn down free labor from a passionate volunteer?
Volunteering doesn’t take any special skills or extensive experience – and there’s never a shortage of organizations looking for help. Once you begin your volunteer position, don’t hesitate to offer help outside of your assigned job. When I worked at an animal rescue group, I noticed a need for a new website, so I offered to build one. I got great satisfaction helping a good cause free of charge, and educated myself at the same time. Our society would not be as strong as it is without folks willing to help those in need. Get started and volunteer today.
Have you volunteered before? What was your experience like?