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Volunteering is usually considered an altruistic activity, but helping others doesn’t mean you can’t also help yourself. For example, a few years ago I worked as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. I love the smart way their program provides affordable housing.
But I had other motives besides helping people put a roof over their heads. I wanted to learn some skills so I could could find work and flip a house or two for a profit. I learned how to do framing, siding, as well as interior and exterior painting.
Shortly after my stint with habitat I was hired by a real estate investor to work on his properties. In the four years following that I used my skills to make a profit buying, fixing and selling four homes (we lived in three of them).
That’s my own example of how to help others while helping yourself. But there are many other ways to make money, save money, or otherwise help your financial situation by becoming a volunteer. Here are ten of them.
1. Save Money at Events and Places
One of the simplest ways to save money as a volunteer is to help out at events and places where you would otherwise have to pay to get in. For example, if you and your significant other volunteer to be ushers at a live theater event you might save $50 between you.
How can you locate these opportunities? VolunteerMatch.com is a good place to start. Entering “museums” in the search box, for example, turned up several places in Tucson, Arizona (where I live) that are looking for volunteers.
2. Save Money on Travel
Want to see the world, or at least certain parts of it, at a much lower cost? Volunteer with an organization which will send you somewhere interesting.
For example, I volunteered with an at-risk youth organization years ago. It wasn’t difficult work, and I got free adventure trips out of the deal. For example, I went dog sledding in Canada and cave exploring in Tennessee.
Even volunteer programs that require you to pay something can make for cheap travel. For example, RCDP International Volunteer sends people all over the world. They have 200 projects in 19 countries, and volunteers contribute as little as $99 per week. That’s cheap travel!
3. Get Free Housing
Some volunteer opportunities come with housing provided, which by itself can be a valuable benefit. This is the case with most volunteer organizations that send you overseas, like the Peace Corps for example.
You can also (sometimes) get free housing when you sign up for the Volunteers-in-Parks program, which is part of the National Park Service. Here are some of the possible volunteer positions suggested in a Huffington Post article on this program:
- Campground host
- Research library assistant
- Trail builder
- Weather data collection assistant
- Archeological site worker
4. Get Paid as a Volunteer
There are a number of organizations that pay volunteers, although they prefer to call it a “stipend” or “allowance.” They don’t pay much, and often require special skills or a college degree, but you often get other financial benefits. Here are a few examples:
UN Volunteers – This organization has 2,000 openings per year. Get accepted into the “Global Talent Pool” to be chosen for most of them, since they’re usually not advertised. Assignments are around the world, typically last 6 to 12 months, and come with “certain allowances,” which they say “are in no way to be understood as a compensation, reward or salary.”
International Executive Service Corps – IESC works on economic development and, besides regular employees and paid consultants, has internships and volunteer positions. As a volunteer you get a stipend for living expenses.
Peace Corps – When you volunteer for the Peace Corps you have you living expenses covered and at the end of your two-year stint you are given $8,000 “to help with the transition to life back home.” You also get health benefits, paid vacation days, and possibly student loan forgiveness.
5. Get a Scholarship
Numerous organizations offer scholarships based on volunteer work. For example, the Bonner Program offers scholarships at dozens of universities for students who agree to volunteer 10 hours of community service work weekly (during the school year).
Other organizations award scholarships to people who have already done significant community service work, or they make volunteer work one of the criteria for their scholarships.
Want to know more?
FinAid.org has a list of scholarships for volunteering and community service. PrepScholar.com also maintains a list of community service scholarships.
6. Build a Better Resume
Volunteering is one of the simplest and quickest ways to improve your resume, and a better resume can lead to a better job.
For example, if you help any charitable organization with their Facebook page and Twitter account you can add “social media manager” to your resume. If you help manage the phone lines for a fundraising drive of a local charity you’ve been a “call center manager.”
Even if you have limited time to volunteer this strategy still works well. For example, if you paint houses for Habitat for Humanity just one day per month, after twelve days of actual work you have a year of experience to add to your resume.
To really spice up your resume look for interesting opportunities. For example, I searched “animals” on VolunteerMatch.org and one position caught my eye. A zoo needed a volunteer to help host for a segment on a TV show about their animals. Just like that you could add “television show host” to your resume.
Consider what kind of jobs you want in the future, and then look for volunteer opportunities where you can get relevant experience.
7. Network With Business People
More than a fifth of volunteers who responded to a Fidelity Charitable survey said that one of their motivations was professional networking. It makes sense because you’re going to meet a lot of people when you volunteer.
More than that, you know that the people you meet as a volunteer chose to volunteer for the same organization as you. That shared interest might help if one of them is a potential employer or business partner.
Do a little research if you want to work at a specific company. Maybe there’s a charity they support, or perhaps some key executives volunteer their time with a specific non-profit organization. You can volunteer as a way to meet them.
8. Get a Job With the Organization for Which You Volunteer
Just as most employers prefer to promote from within rather than hire a stranger, non-profit organizations commonly look to volunteers to fill paid positions that open up..
For example, when I volunteered at Habitat for Humanity I met two supervisors who started out as volunteers. Both had become paid employees more than fifteen years earlier.
A post on IdealistCareers.org profiles Jessica Thibodeaux, a 23-year-old who volunteered for an online crisis chat network, and a month later was offered a paid position. They also have an article on tips for turning a volunteer position into a job, in which they mention several other examples.
9. Get a Job With Other Non-Profits
If you want to get a job working for any non-profit, volunteering is a great way to start. Forbes reports that one survey found “54% of nonprofit employers consider volunteer work the most valuable experience a candidate can have.”
And jobs at non-profits can pay well,to say the least. For example, Forbes also mentions that at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “mid-level program officers make $150,000.”
When working as a volunteer try to serve in as many ways as you can. That range of experience will help your resume and improve your odds of landing a decent job in the future.
10. Learn Valuable Skills
My time with Habitat for Humanity helped me learn how to paint and install siding. One obvious benefit was that I developed the skills to get a job in those fields if I wanted to. But I was looking at it from a different perspective.
I wanted to learn painting in particular as a way to do better as a real estate investor. Painting, if you do it yourself, is one of the cheapest ways to transform a house and increase its value. Learning how to do it right helped me make a profit on four houses.
Skills learned from your volunteer work might be used to land you a job, help with investments, or to start a business. And there are many different skills you might develop, because volunteers are needed to work indoors and out, and to do menial labor, marketing, social work, office work, management tasks and more.
List your financial goals, consider which skills can get you get there, and then volunteer for a relevant position in an organization doing good work. You can help make the world a better place while you help your own financial situation.
If you’ve benefitted from volunteer work, tell us your story below… and keep on frugaling!