Volunteering in NYC: A Primer

Happy New Year! If you’re like us, you’ve put together a short list of things that you’d like to accomplish or resolutions you’d like to keep in 2015. (Some of ours include: learning a new language, running a few 5ks and cooking more at home.)

A very common resolution that our friends and family have is to give back and volunteer more. In a big city like New York, there are SO many worthy causes, and so many places to volunteer, that it can seem overwhelming. Here, we offer a few tips and suggestions to find something that works for you.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How much time can I really dedicate to volunteering? Can you actually commit to something once a week? Or would one-off opportunities be better?
  • What type of environment do I want? Determine if you’d be more comfortable interacting with clients, or the public, or if you’d prefer a more behind-the-scenes role.
  • What kind of work would I like to do? There’s a big difference between walking puppies and assisting with grant applications…
  • What causes are close to my heart? You’ll have a lot of passion for your position if you care deeply about the cause.

Once you’ve answered those questions, dive in! Though, I wouldn’t recommend simply Googling “volunteering in NYC” as it will bring up “About 10,600,000” results. Here are a few helpful starting points, and local organizations that we love:

  • NYC Service – The City of New York maintains an official site dedicated solely to volunteering opportunities. This can be an ideal place to start, and to see the wide range of opportunities out there.
  • Idealist – While you may know Idealist for job opportunities, did you know that you could also use it to search for volunteer opportunities? I especially love the filtering options – time commitment, location, family friendly etc.
  • NYCLU – The NYC chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union always needs dedicated civil rights activists. They hold regular meetings with opportunities to join advocacy campaigns.
  • NYC Parks Department – You love spending time in the city’s parks, so why not help them stay nice and green?
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters – Becoming a big brother or big sister is a “big” time and energy commitment, but can be infinitely rewarding. There is the greatest demand for young men outside of Manhattan to be big brothers.
  • Housing Works – This is a very hip organization that has a number of thrift stores, and a bookstore, located all around the city. Each location has opportunities to volunteer, while supporting people affected by HIV/AIDS.
  • Charity Water – This organization focused on clean water offers a number of volunteering opportunities. Their volunteer network is run through MeetUp.com, which – smartly – helps them position giving back as a social opportunity. Plus, you can also apply to volunteer at their international project locations in Ethiopia, Liberia and Uganda.
  • NYC Marathon – Marathon day in NYC is so exciting. By volunteering at the race, you can help put on the event and get a front-row seat to all the action.
  • Community organizations – Almost every neighborhood is bound to have a community services organization. For example, the Sunnyside, Queens community center is always looking for after-school tutors and other helpers.

These are just a few of the many great opportunities out there, but there are certainly plenty more. Let us know if you’ve found a great NYC volunteering opportunity. We’re always looking for new ideas!  And if you need any motivation to get started, MLK Day of Service is coming up on January 19, 2015.