The 60-plus population is booming, and especially post-retirement, older Americans have the potential to be a huge resource to nonprofits through volunteer work. In fact, research from the Corporation for National & Community Service indicates that Baby Boomers have the highest volunteer rate of any age group
While that’s great news for the organizations and people they help, volunteering can also have multiple benefits for volunteers. Those benefits go way beyond rewarding experiences. Researchers say that volunteering is good for our physical and mental health – it might even help us live longer. Depending on the actual work that you do, helping out may help you stay active; and connecting with other people on the job relieves stress. ()
Today, with the Internet and new communication technologies, it’s easier than ever to find ways to volunteer your time, whether you want to help out several hours or week or just once in a while. Some of the opportunities available to seniors don’t even require you to leave your home.
We tried out several sites, looking for breadth of volunteering opportunities and user-friendly design.
Local Opportunities in the US – the Best Sites
Several popular websites provide listings of available volunteer opportunities offered by local and national nonprofit organizations. These sites are great for finding on-the-ground positions in your area by using the sites’ location or keyword search options.
The types of opportunity can vary: Staffing events, helping with research, acting as a board member, taking on marketing assignments, writing grants… the list goes on. Some of these sites also offer virtual volunteering opportunities, where you can work from home.
Volunteer Match is one of the leading websites for finding local volunteer opportunities or virtual volunteer positions, and it’s very easy to use. Organizations post opportunities to Volunteer Match, and if one interests you, you can simply click the I Want to Help button to send a message to the organization expressing interest or requesting more info.
Registration Although anyone can browse, you do have to be a registered user to interact with the site. Create a profile or sign up through Facebook or Linked In.
Searches You can search or browse. To search, just put in your zip code (or the site might already recognize your location), type in a keyword and see what comes up. We typed in “Tech” and were shown a wide variety of New York opportunities, including one for the Microsoft summer Tech Fest to help students prepare for Microsoft certification. To browse, select from a list of causes, including Animals, Children & Youth, and Environment. You can also filter by age group – there’s a filter for volunteers ages 55 and up.
Virtual positions? Yes, you have the option of including or exclusively searching for virtual positions that let you volunteer from home.
All for Good
All for Good calls itself “a Craigslist for volunteering” and was created by a team of volunteers from tech giants like YouTube and Google, along with UCLA and Craigslist’s founder. This beautifully designed site is the largest hub connecting volunteers with nonprofits via a database of opportunities from partner sites.
Registration You can search without signing up, but to register for hosted opportunities, you have to create a profile – the site offers an option to do so using Facebook. Your profile page allows you to manage projects hosted on the site and groups you’re a part of, and to post a skills profile.
Searches A simple search involves just keyword (the site immediately shows you a list of options) and zipcode. The site’s advance search features let you adjust the distance you’re willing to travel for volunteer jobs, specify dates and select national events like MLK Day. You can also search specifically for disaster related volunteer opportunities – a good option if you’re open to working away from home for a stint. We ran a search for opportunities to help seniors in the Los Angeles area. The site returned several short-term options – including taking seniors in a rehab facility on an excursion to a neighborhood 99 cent store. Some of the opportunities, however, were already out of date.
Virtual positions? The search results may include virtual opportunities.
Idealist’s comprehensive listings include internships, jobs and volunteer positions with a variety of nonprofits worldwide. Idealist has a strong focus on social justice, and the listings reflect this. For inexperienced volunteers, the site has valuable resource centers on a range of topics that include skilled and pro bono volunteering (especially for people with professional experience) and one for older volunteers that offers information and links to additional sites. (Access the resource center for older volunteers by clicking here.)
Registration You don’t have to sign up to search listings or apply for available opportunities. However, you can create an account to save searches and get email alerts when opportunities come up that match your requirements. You have the option of using any one of several social media accounts to register, including Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.
Searches To start searching, you can simply enter keywords and/or your location. But the site also gives you lots of options for filtering your search so that you can specify your the time commitment you want to make, the duration of the opportunity, days of the week and times of day, preferred language and more. You can filter for local, remote and international opportunities, too. We tried searching for opportunities to help children on a regular, ongoing basis in Florida. Among the opportunities that the site returned were reading books to children at a head-start center and support group leaders for a grief counseling center dealing with kids who’ve lost parents or siblings (psychology degree preferred). Get search tips here.
Virtual positions? The site might offer virtual positions to match your needs, but most are on the ground. A search for “Remote” brought up both virtual and non-local opportunities – a little confusing.
Seniors Only Volunteering
Senior Corps-funded programs including Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and the RSVP network of volunteer opportunities, which include anything from renovating someone’s home to tutoring a child.
Besides these programs, the organization has a search powered by Volunteer Match (see above); it automatically filters the results for opportunities it considers good for people age 55 and up and adds another layer by providing guidance and training for older volunteers.
Using the Volunteer Match widget, we tried searching the NYC area for opportunities involving help for children and teens. The results matched geographically but listed mostly opportunities to help seniors! If that’s what you’re interested in, this could be a good site for you.
The site also lets you download a list of organizations that sponsor Senior Corps programs in your state and features funding opportunities for organizations. If you already have an organization in mind, you could offer to assist with researching and applying for grants.
Unfortunately, like so many government sites Senior Corps is bloated with information and doesn’t make it easy for you to find what you’re looking for – including how to sign up for its three core programs!
Over 50 and Overseas
50+ Overseas caters to older individuals looking to travel and do volunteer work at the same time. The site includes many resources for the planning process, including guidance for picking an organization to volunteer with, health and safety precautions, as well as the volunteer listings. There is no signup process – the site is simply a repository of information that links you to the sites of relevant organizations, where you can apply.
You can search the listings by type (Health, Animal Aid, Environmental, Teaching, etc.), region or specific country. We searched for Professional Services opportunities anywhere in the world and were shown some interesting options, including one from the International Senior Lawyers Project, which is looking for a lawyer to spend several months in a developing country, helping to promote human rights by mentoring, assisting and building organizational capacity.
While many sites show you virtual volunteering opportunities, the work isn’t always done exclusively online. If you’re looking to volunteer without leaving home, try one of the several sites that focus on jobs where you collaborate using Internet tools.
Among the types of volunteer work that you can do from a computer are marketing projects, program management and IT support; you can scan and proof books, add to resource databases, provide support to individuals in need and mentor or coach people around the world. There are many different ways that you can contribute to a cause you are passionate about. (For additional online volunteer programs this site has an exhaustive list.)
United Nations Online Volunteering
This site includes listing from worldwide organizations involved in peace and development work. You can search by task, development topic or region. Most of the postings involve under writing and editing, research, translation and design. In our search, we found that the teaching and coaching section listed several online teaching positions.
To apply to a listing, you simply click “Apply Now” and complete an online application form. You have the option to attach your CV before submitting the application directly to the organization you’re interested in working with.
The award-winning IntoBooks program connects adult mentors with third- through sixth-grade students. Mentors act as pen pals, discussing the books that the kids are reading through an exchange of letters that you post online. The organization supplies resources and tools to help you, including tutorials, questions to ask your mentee and sample letters.
You can register now for the next academic year – or to join a waiting list – by filling out an application through the volunteer page. A background check is required, which includes a $6 fee. One caveat: the in2books site is hard to navigate, even for experienced Internet users. Watch an NBC video about the program here.
GoodProspects is a virtual mentoring site for featured career fields. It’s the volunteer arm of Goodwill Industries International, which helps younger people explore career choices – the organization makes a special effort to help people with criminal backgrounds and disabilities, as well as women and young adults. Mentors can share information about their area of expertise, answer questions and give advice.
To be a mentor, you should have professional experience in one of the featured career fields (see image below) and may have to pass a background check. You can apply to be a mentor by filling in a 30-minute application form here.
Micro volunteering activities usually involve short projects or tasks that require from a couple of minutes up to a couple of hours of your time. Most do not require a long-term commitment. Micro volunteering includes a variety of activities for skills-based work, as well as tasks that anyone can do either online or off.
Skills for Change
On Skills for Change, organizations looking for anything from a press release or blog post to a new logo or help with a website post quick challenges, and registered volunteers who have the required skills can respond directly on the site. Opportunities or “challenges” are posted for a number of days, and many people might respond to each one. The organizations who benefit from your work have the option to rate your work (or in most cases simply to say thanks) on the site.
Getting started on this user-friendly site is easy. Just pick causes that interest you from a grid of options and the skills you have, and register for an account (you can use your Facebook account to register if you want to). Relevant challenges are presented in a slideshow, with a short description of the task and the organization. (You can also see a list of challenges or organizations by cause or skill by using a keyword search.) If you see something you want to help with, just jump in and do it – no need to apply.
Help From Home
Help from Home actions can be as short as one minute or last up to 30 minutes and are in one of three categories: Do Good (these include playing online games to contribute to research projects and knitting 12-inch squares for blankets for the needy), Green Actions (plant a tree, collect tree data) and Advocacy Actions (send a pre-worded email through Habitat for Humanity). Many of these micro “volunteer tasks” stretch the definition, most of the on-the-ground opportunities are UK-based and the site is ad-cluttered, but you’re likely to find something of interest.
Help From Home also offers a Help from Seniors program – the mostly online tasks here are geared to providing the types of stimuli that the site claims can help you stay sharp; for example, help classify galaxies according to shape, or take surveys for the Social Psychology Network.
Have you used any great volunteer websites for local, travel or virtual volunteering? Please share them in the comments section!