As anyone who has ever given time to a good cause knows, the rewards of volunteering are intangible. By definition, the point is to make the world a better place without expecting payment in return.
See also: Find a volunteer opportunity near you.
Without expecting payment, yes, but a coincidental perk here and there doesn't hurt. If your budget is extra tight (and even if it isn't), it makes sense to get some extras when you're giving your time instead of your money.
Here are six great volunteer opportunities with benefits that enrich your life while you enrich the lives of others.
1. Help out at a hospital. Most hospitals rely on large volunteer staffs to keep things running smoothly. They need helpers to cheer up the sick, hold newborn babies or run the gift shop. Those volunteer opportunities offer satisfaction on their own, but many hospitals sweeten the deal.
Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, for example, offers volunteers free access to its fitness center and medical library, health screenings, educational seminars and parking — not to mention a meal in the cafeteria for each shift. Other common volunteer perks at hospitals include flu shots and discounts at local businesses.
Cash value: Variable
Time: As little as an hour a week
Tip: Hospitals screen volunteers more stringently than most organizations; expect a detailed application, a TB test and training time.
Info: Call the volunteer coordinator at your local hospital, or browse online for your hospital's name plus the word "volunteer."
2. Chaperone trips for adults with special needs. Exploring the world expands horizons, boosts self-confidence and forges meaningful new friendships. That's as true for you as for adults with special needs. Serving as a chaperone on tours and trips doubles as a free working vacation.
There may not be many groups that arrange such outings, but here are two that do:
- With the New York nonprofit group Sprout, teams of three leaders escort 11 adults with mild-to-moderate mental disabilities on excursions — day trips around New York or even a week in Hawaii.
- In the Pacific Northwest, Trips Inc. has a similar arrangement for many vacation choices, including cruises, city adventures and nature outings.
Cash value: Variable
Time: One day to one week per trip
Tip: Although the goal is fun for everyone, chaperones are on call 24 hours a day.
3. Usher for the arts. Though taking in a show is any arts lover's idea of a good time, tickets for the performing arts can be prohibitively expensive. Even if you're on a tight budget, there's no need to skip even the best theater and music in town. Volunteer as an usher and most theaters will invite you to see the show on the house.
Some theaters offer bonuses. At the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, for example, volunteers earn a pair of tickets for every eight hours of work. The Berkeley Rep in Berkeley, Calif., gives discounts on souvenirs and food as well as invitations to special events and theater parties.
Cash value: Up to $200
Time: Two to three hours, plus show time.
Tip: You might need to bring your own flashlight.
Info: Call performing arts centers near you or browse online.
4. Manage a public campground. Interested in a free place to camp in your RV all summer? How about free fishing, hiking and stargazing? You can have it all in return for volunteering as a campground host for the National Park Service or U.S. Forest Service. That's 390 national parks and 155 forests. And with $100 million in cuts for the National Park Service alone this year, the nation's public property needs all the help it can get.
Campground hosts monitor campsites and serve as campers' first responder in an emergency. Some hosts also serve as a volunteer ranger, staffing park stations and leading nature walks.
Cash value: $10-20 per night
Time: Typically two weeks to three months
Note: Cleaning latrines is usually part of the job. Just remember: free rent!
5. Join a volunteering rewards program. Programs that let you earn rewards for volunteering have been springing up all over the country. Some are national or regional in scope. Thousands more are local groups with their own volunteer rewards programs, so it makes sense to check wherever you do good deeds.
Here are several examples:
- In Georgia, Do Good, Get Rewards (a for-profit operation) has about 4,500 members who convert their volunteer hours with more than 150 participating nonprofits into everything from groceries to vacations.
- Log volunteer hours with CMT One Country, the volunteering arm of Viacom's Country Music Television, and you're automatically eligible to win prizes that range from a free one-year subscription to Ladies' Home Journal (a co-sponsor) to $1,000 donated to the charity of your choice.
- The Washington Post offers participants in PostPoints, its reader rewards program, bonuses for volunteering and taking part in community and other nonprofit activities.
Cash value: Variable
Time: A little to a lot
Note: Rewards programs come and go, so check everywhere you volunteer and with any offices or organizations in your community that promote volunteering.
Info: Do an Internet search for "volunteer rewards" (wrapped in quotation marks) and the name of the city or area where you live.
6. Earn a presidential award. The White House encourages civic participation throughout the country by offering Presidential Volunteer Service Awards to people who have completed set numbers of community service hours. You can join the more than 2 million Americans who have already earned awards — which include a lapel pin and a letter signed by the president — by tallying your hours spent volunteering for any of 28,000 certifying organizations, including schools and churches. If your preferred organization is not on the list, you can easily add it online.
Cash value: Priceless
Hours: 100 a year for a bronze award, 250 for silver, 500 for gold. Also see details for the "Call to Service" award for people with 4,000-plus hours of lifetime service.
Note: Use the online journal to track your own service hours, then have a certifying organization sign off on them.
Info: The President's Volunteer Service Award website