Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth. – Muhammad Ali
I am continuously amazed by the people I meet, people of every creed and color and country, who want to give a little bit of their time or money or trade to help out someone or something else. One of the most common complaints I hear is the lack of “free volunteering” opportunities. It seems like everyone wants to sell you a chance to volunteer these days.
Well, I believe service should be free to those you serve, and it shouldn’t take an advanced degree and small fortune to serve, either.
I’ve put together this page as a resource for those who also feel that a life well lived is a life well served. Here you will find a continuously growing and changing list of organizations or clearing houses for volunteering opportunities. With each one, I’ll provide you links to continue research for yourself.
Most importantly, this effort to create a transparent and fairly presented resource is a community effort. If you know of a program or opportunity I’ve missed, send it to me via the Contact Me tab. Please include the program name, a link for me to check it out, and a brief summary of how you know of the program and why it should be listed here. All countries, states, and communities are welcome. The important part is that there is no fee associated with applying or participating.*
Thank you for your lives of service.
DreamJobbing allows employers to put up a “dream job” – usually a short-term assignment at their workplace – and people can bid to work there by “applying” via video on the DreamJobbing website. People vote on the best “application” via social media and then the winner gets the once-in-a-lifetime chance to dry out their dream job!
AmeriCorps is a U.S. based program that allows Americans to volunteer in America in a variety of sectors. Volunteers may receive some benefits from their service, such as loan deferment, living and health stipends, and money for pursing your education post-service (not to mention amazing experience!).
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a program that matches volunteers with hosts on organic farms around the world. It’s a great opportunity to learn new skills in the agricultural field, and the host gets help on their farm! Hosts generally provide room and board, and volunteers usually work for at least a week, if not longer. Each farm is different and it is up to the volunteer to work with the host and agree upon an arrangement before beginning their service.
Founded by President Kennedy in the early 60’s, Peace Corps sends Americans to developing countries around the world to provide technical training to locals and engage in cultural exchange. A 27 month commitment, Peace Corps is open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree and/or substantial life/work experience. Free to apply and join, though the medical review process can be very expensive, especially if you don’t have insurance. Volunteers who successfully complete their service are awarded a readjustment allowance that ranges between $7-8k. Volunteers also are completely covered by Peace Corps’ insurance during their service, and all travel and living expenses are paid for. So, not technically volunteering (you’re not doing entirely for free), but considered volunteer status by the U.S. government.
Student Conservation Association
Open to youth under 18 (and over), SCA allows young people to engage in conservation projects around the United States. During their service (usually a few weeks to a few months), youth learn new skills, develop their leadership abilities, and see new parts of America before they’re out of high school or college. While some programs do have fees to cover transportation, etc., many programs do offer living and travel stipends.
Global Health Corps
GHC sends young people (under 30) to live and work with partner organizations as fellows in their health program. All expenses are paid for by GHC, and fellows receive a $1500 award after their 1-year service is completed. Fellows must possess a bachelor’s degree and be proficient in English to apply. Fellows work in a huge variety of fields from fundraising and community organizing to more traditional health roles.
Doctors Without Borders
Also known as MSF (Medicins Sans Frontieres) is a French organization that sends medical personnel into areas where there are high health needs. Medical professionals serve all over the world in a variety of circumstances and are often the first to respond to major health and humanitarian events (e.g. ebola outbreak). Participants are compensated to a small degree for their service, and expenses are covered by the MSF organization.
Work Away is a great way to travel and volunteer at the same time. Work Away participants connect with “hosts” across the world. Hosts offer an opportunity for travelers to volunteer with them, usually in exchange for room and board. Volunteer opportunities are hugely varied and each connection is arranged between the volunteer and host independently. Work Away charges a small fee for users (about $30USD for a two-year subscription) to help cover operating costs.
Help X is a similar program to Work Away. Participants connect with hosts offering opportunities to help them with projects, businesses, farms, and a wide variety of other opportunities. Hosts usually provide room and board, though volunteers and hosts work out arrangements independent of the Help X site. Help X also charges a small user fee to those searching for hosts.
Other Not-Quite-Volunteering Programs
Teach For America
Teach for America places teachers in communities all over America to help fight education inequality and provide dedicated professionals in places they are most needed. Teachers are compensated for their 2-year commitment based on location and experience.
A dating site for those who find volunteerism sexy! They’re new and growing, so check them out now.
A great site where you can search for jobs, internships, and volunteering opportunities all over the world. Allows you to search by keywords as well as type of obligation (contract, full-time, part-time, etc.) and required qualifications (degrees, etc.).
CouchSurfing offers a way for travelers to meet locals and find free accommodation around the world. CouchSurfing’s website connects travelers with people will to host a visitor. It is expected that the host will provide a free stay to the traveler, though hosts and travelers must work out their own agreements independently prior to the traveler arriving. Travelers and hosts can also review their experience with each other. Some hosts only offer to show someone around their community, meet for lunch or coffee, etc. Regardless, it’s a fantastic way to meet locals and travel on a budget. CouchSurfing allows users to pay a $25USD “verification fee” where they will send you a postcard with a verification code. Users then enter this code and CouchSurfing offers a sort of guarantee to other users that you are, in fact, a real person with a real address (a nice safety feature).
I know, I giggled at the name, too. While Warm Showers may have a funny name, they provide a great resource for touring bicyclists around the world. The service operates much the same was as CouchSurfing, but is aimed only at cyclists who are on long-term tours.
* There’s no such thing as a free lunch, even with volunteering. Peace Corps, for example, is free to apply but may require extensive medical costs to get medical clearance. Free means no application or participation fee. Some opportunities have operating costs that they spread out through a subscription fee to the user.
To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity. – Douglas Adams