How To Find Volunteer Opportunities While Traveling in the U.S.

This is part of our (almost) weekly How To Series.

We are now volunteering an average of 15 hours per week while traveling by car throughout the United States and Canada.  We have volunteered for a wide variety of different projects and hopefully sharing how we get connected can help you get more involved.

Jay and Sharon at Materials for the Arts

Our volunteer project in New York with Materials for the Arts

First, a few caveats:

  1. One time volunteering is not a long term solution to any of our country’s challenges.  I encourage everyone to discover what they are passionate about and make a lasting commitment.
  2. If can often require a lot of planning on your part and on the part of the organization for just a few hours of volunteer work.  For me the planning and then sharing the experience afterwards is all part of the experience and makes it worthwhile.
  3. This advice may not be useful to non-U.S. citizens that are traveling in the U.S..  Some organizations have restrictions on how international visitors can volunteer their time.
sharon in big bad wolf costume

Volunteering at Wabi Sabi Thrift Store in Moab

What kind of volunteering can you get involved with on a one time or flexible basis?
  • Environmental clean ups
  • Trail building and maintenance
  • Sorting donations at a thrift store
  • Shelving and boxing food at a food bank
  • Assisting with nonprofit events such as festivals, charity runs, holiday galas, and silent auctions
  • National Days of Service  provide more diverse opportunities
This is not an exhaustive list, just some examples to get you thinking.
North Country Trail sign

Sign for National Trails Day, which we spent in Pennsylvania

What kind of volunteer will you NOT be able to do on a one time or flexible basis?

  • Mentoring
  • Tutoring kids in a school
  • Being an advocate for abused children
  • Working at a safe house for abused women
  • Holding a leadership role of any kind, such as being on a planning committee, a non-profit board, or coaching a team
The list above may seem obvious, but I think it is helpful to be aware of all the different ways you can be involved as a volunteer and recognize that some of these positions require a certain level of commitment and necessitate background checks and proper screening before you can get involved.
sharon and jay at the red balloon picnic

Jay and Sharon at the Red Balloon Picnic volunteer project with Phoenix Philanthropists

Ok, that said, here’s how I find volunteer opportunities while we are on the road.

  1. I start by looking for a volunteer center in the area we are headed.  Most volunteer centers are part of the HandsOn Network and you can look on their map to find one.
  2. Most volunteer center websites list a “project calendar” such as the one HERE on Volunteer Arlington’s website.
  3. I use the calendar to get an idea of which organizations are hosting events or use “date-specific” volunteers.  You can also browse organizations listed on the volunteer center website for more ideas or for a specific cause.  I usually do not sign up through the Volunteer Center website because it requires me to create an online account and since I am only passing through I do not want to deal with the hassle.
  4. Next I contact the organization directly.  I prefer email so that I have a paper trail.  I usually google the organization, review their website, and then find the name and email of the volunteer manager.
  5. I introduce myself and explain our trip and ask if we can either sign up for an established opportunity or if there is a one time or flexible opportunity that we can help with.  It is important to be specific and clear from the beginning that you are traveling and will not be able to make a weekly commitment.  It might help to list your skills or relevant experience.
If I do not find a volunteer center in the area I usually just google something like, “volunteer Grand Junction November 2011”.  By using the town name and the date I am more likely to find one time opportunities that it is easy to plug into.
Another option for event volunteering is to look on the Visitor Center or Chamber of Commerce website for a listing of local events.  Many local events are actually fundraisers for nonprofits and you can get contact information to ask about helping out.
If you know someone in the area you are traveling to they can also often help connect you to a local organization.  When you are introduced by a local that knows the organization it is much easier to get signed up to volunteer.
Also, if you are traveling but are interested in volunteering in one place for a week, month, or even a year there are a lot more options.
Sharon at Trail building in Prescott

Sharon at a trail building day in Prescott, Arizona

Organizations that have week-long volunteer projects:

Sharon cutting and Jay assisting on a backcountry trip with Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation

Organizations that have “volunteer vacations” you have to pay for:
If you have other suggestions for how to volunteer in the United States while traveling, please let me know by commenting on this post.
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3 responses to “How To Find Volunteer Opportunities While Traveling in the U.S.

  1. Very informative and lots of great resources. And thank you for including Habitat for Humanity in your list of organizations with travel-friendly volunteer opportunities! One of our programs in particular is tailor-made for people looking to combine travel and volunteering: RV Care-A-Vanners.

    The RV Care-A-Vanners program brings together people from all walks of life who want to pick up a hammer and help change lives. Many RV Care-A-Vanners help local Habitat affiliates raise awareness of poverty housing and homelessness by speaking to churches, civic groups and local media. Individual Care-A-Vanners often make donations to their local Habitat affiliate and some even organize fundraising teams and sponsor entire houses. http://www.habitat.org/rv/

    Thanks again for including Habitat in your post and for the opportunity to share more about our Care-A-Vanners program. Looking forward to reading more of your posts about your travels!

  2. Great advice; I’ll pass it along. Thanks!

  3. Hi all, this is Sharon’s mom. I volunteer at the local Ronald McDonald House, a home away from home for families whose children are in the hospital or undergoing extended outpatient treatment. Some Houses can use volunteers on an occasional basis for outside work on the grounds, cooking a meal inside, cleaning, doing repairs if you’re handy, etc. You can find them online and see what they need!

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