9 Creative Ways to Volunteer and Really Make a Difference

If you have a favorite cause or activity, we guarantee you can find a way to volunteer that will make a big difference in your life—and someone else's.

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Find your match

volunteerSyda Productions/ShutterstockIf you're not sure where to begin, try a clearinghouse like your local United Way chapter, Points of Light, or VolunteerMatch. "Our platform gives volunteers the ability to search for opportunities that adhere to their skill level or learning outcomes," says Basil Sadiq, marketing associate at VolunteerMatch. "Volunteering is a great way to learn a new skill or put an existing skill into practice, all while giving back to the community." More than 110,000 nonprofits work with VolunteerMatch to post their volunteering needs. Search them based on a cause you're passionate about and/or the skills you'd like to share or develop.

Strut your stuff

theatrejgolby/ShutterstockIf you love the spotlight, volunteer for a community theater production. Or how about Musicians on Call, a nonprofit that shares music with hospital patients in 12 cities? Or, share your voice with the community by giving tours or interpreting exhibits at a local museum or zoo. Small, quirky options abound, and training is always provided. If you're into the arts but prefer to work behind the scenes, these same groups always need help in those areas too. You can even share your voice from your home computer by donating to the Voice Bank at VocalID. Recorded voices can help people who use assistive communication technology.

Plan a party

birthdayoneinchpunch/ShutterstockTake your birthday-bash skills to the next level when you volunteer with Brightening Birthdays, a project of Volunteers of America. You'll help bring birthday celebrations (cake, presents, hats, the works!) to kids and families struggling with homelessness. Some hospice agencies and senior centers also plan celebrations for their clients, and you can help. Or, name a cause you'd love to support (say, research and advocacy for a particular medical condition) and you can join up with a nonprofit that needs your time and talent to plan special events.

Get crafty

knittingMiroslav Lukic/ShutterstockLike to knit or sew? There are tons of ways to share your skills with people who need help. Did you know you can knit a prosthetic breast for a woman who's had a mastectomy? Yes, with Knitted Knockers! More options:

Make very special deliveries

motorcycleNEstudio/ShutterstockThis one's for the motorcyclists out there. Your local bike club probably does charitable work, like these Patriot Guard Riders. Some women's bike groups take on very precious cargo: donated breast milk. When the New York Milk Bank asked the Sirens Women's Motorcycle Club of New York City for help, its members stepped up right away. They now use their bikes to take "liquid gold" (expressed breast milk) from donation depots to a pasteurizing center to hospitals and other places where needy babies are waiting.

Build and rebuild

buildinggornostay/ShutterstockIf you know your way around a set of tools (or a paintbrush), you can help veterans through Purple Heart Homes. Through this group, veterans help other vets build or maintain their homes. Civilians can help out too, especially with fundraising and other behind-the-scenes jobs. (Here are 45 things Americans veterans wish you knew.) Prefer to focus on kids and community spaces? Check out KaBOOM!, which works with communities to build and improve parks and playgrounds so children can have better access to fresh air and safe places to be active. You don't need any prior knowledge or skills to contribute to a KaBOOM build.

Create code

codingREDPIXEL.PL/ShutterstockCode for America is always looking for volunteers with technical skills. You can join a local brigade of this "Peace Corps for Geeks," or "hack from home" as you help address community problems with innovative technological solutions. Past projects have created an app that matches addicts with recovery programs and a website that makes it easier to apply for food stamp benefits. If video games are your favorite kind of tech, you can help raise money for worthy causes while you play. Register for one of Games Done Quick's twice-yearly speed-running marathons for charity.

Volunteer virtually

computerUber Images/ShutterstockPrefer to volunteer without leaving your home? "VolunteerMatch has over 6,000 virtual volunteer opportunities you can do from anywhere, including blogging about vegetarian recipes for a sustainable nonprofit, translating Spanish for a state-wide volunteer center, and becoming a crisis text line volunteer who provides relief to people suffering from trauma in just a few taps," says Sadiq.

Hike or climb for a higher cause

hikingMy Good Images/ShutterstockHikers can offer helping hands and feet in many ways. If you happen to live near the Appalachian Trail, you can join a corps of over 6,000 volunteers who work to keep the trail in shape for its visitors. Volunteers perform basic maintenance but also contribute to bigger projects like building bridges. You can add service to a hiking vacation through the American Hiking Society's Volunteer Vacations, which features trail projects as well as time off to explore public lands. In the San Francisco Bay area, GirlVentures seeks hikers to help with its outdoor adventures for adolescent girls, and rock climbers to mentor girls in its after-school climbing class.

Help a pet get to a new home

catAlena Ozerova/ShutterstockSay you love animals and want to help rescued pets, but you can't foster animals in your home or commit to a once-a-week walking time at your local shelter. You can help by transporting pets instead: Pilots are needed, but so are everyday folks with a vehicle and a couple of hours to give. Sign up for a shift when and where you can, and you'll help a homeless pet make the journey to its new forever home.

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