Volunteering During Retirement
Volunteering during retirement can provide many mental, physical and financial health benefits. Some volunteer options include, but aren’t limited to, health care programs, art programs, religious programs and environmental conservation projects. Explore each volunteer option in our guide to help you select an opportunity to improve your quality of life.
- Written by Lindsey Crossmier
Lindsey Crossmier is an accomplished writer with experience working for The Florida Review and Bookstar PR. As a financial writer, she covers Medicare, life insurance and dental insurance topics for RetireGuide. Research-based data drives her work.Read More
- Edited ByLamia Chowdhury
Lamia Chowdhury is a financial content editor for RetireGuide and has over three years of marketing experience in the finance industry. She has written copy for both digital and print pieces ranging from blogs, radio scripts and search ads to billboards, brochures, mailers and more.Read More
- Published: May 22, 2023
- Updated: May 24, 2023
- 11 min read time
- This page features 11 Cited Research Articles
- Edited By
Volunteer Opportunities for Retirees
With COVID-19 restrictions lessening, Americans are ready to reap the mental, physical and financial benefits of a volunteer-driven lifestyle.
A four-year long study from Springer Nature found strong evidence that volunteering results in overall improved health and wellbeing for older adults.
Patricia Bubash, M.Ed., LPC, is a regular volunteer at a children’s group home, church nursery, food pantry and other nonprofits. She spoke to RetireGuide about her volunteering experience during retirement.
“What most retirees do not realize, is time gets boring when there is nothing planned. Volunteering provides a planned, regularly scheduled activity to give purpose to life.”
- Charities and nonprofits
- Health care and nutrition support programs
- Environmental conservation projects
- Tutoring and mentoring programs
- Animal rescue and service programs
- Arts and culture initiatives
- Religious outreach activities
If you’re interested in any of the volunteer opportunities above, you can find more details about each of them below. All programs listed within this guide are available nationwide and open to seniors.
Charities and Nonprofits
- National Council of Nonprofits
- The largest network of nonprofits in North America that can connect you with more than 30,000 nonprofits across the country.
- AmeriCorps is a national nonprofit, with volunteer programs specifically for those 55 and older. This program has a wide range of volunteer options, like helping children learn how to read or supporting a family during a national disaster.
- Charity Navigator
- A tool to help connect you with thousands of charities. Their tool has the option to filter searches to find charities that align with your values.
- America’s Charities
- This charity hand selected nearly 100 of America’s best charities for donations. The charities are reviewed annually and must meet specific eligibility requirements.
- Habitat for Humanity
- Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit that specializes in providing safe, affordable housing for all. There are long-term and short-term volunteer options available.
Best for: People looking for a wide range of volunteer opportunities or to donate to a charity.
Health Care and Nutrition Support Programs
Note that health care volunteer programs typically require more training and potential certifications compared to other volunteer types.
- Meals on Wheels
- You can volunteer to deliver a hot meal to someone in need who can no longer cook for themselves. This nutrition support program can also include a wellness check.
- Nationwide Children’s
- There are multiple positions available nationwide to volunteer at children’s hospitals. Some volunteer options include becoming a clubhouse volunteer with kids or a tour guide for visitors.
- National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics
- You can volunteer at one of the 1,400 free and charitable clinics and pharmacies nationwide. They accept a wide range of volunteers, from licensed health care professionals to those with non-medical backgrounds. There are also remote options available.
- Feeding America
- Feeding America is a food bank with a variety of volunteer options. You can sort and pack food, assist at drive through pantries, garden or volunteer from home.
Best for: People with or without medical experience looking to help others with their nutrition or health. Also, best for homebound seniors looking for remote volunteer work.
Environmental Conservation Projects
Every volunteer option in the list below has the same general goal: to protect and preserve nature. You can lead a tour, restore a habitat or conduct plant and animal surveys.
Some offer options to volunteer on a day-by-day basis, while others allow you to volunteer year-round.
Best for: Someone who wants to be surrounded by nature and restore its natural beauty. A good option for someone looking for a range of short-term and long-term volunteer options.
Tutoring and Mentoring Programs
The following programs can help impact education for the youth.
- 826 National
- This program offers opportunities to support morning field trips, sit side-by-side with students after school and help classes learn new writing techniques.
- Mentor National
- You can apply to become a mentor for today’s youth in various programs. Some programs include mentorship for the LGBTQ community, workplace programs and inclusive mentoring for disabled youths.
- Learn To Be
- This tutoring program can match you with a student for one-on-one sessions to teach them in any subject of your choosing.
Best for: Someone with a knack for education and passion to help kids improve. Even if you don’t have a teaching degree or education background, there are likely still volunteer roles suited for you.
Animal Rescue and Service Programs
Time with four-legged friends can span beyond your home with animal rescue and service programs.
- The Humane Society of the United States
- Help rescue animals who’ve been abused or injured from a natural disaster. You can handle the animals or take on an administrative volunteer role. There are different locations for the program all over the U.S., but the main center is in Maryland. If you travel to help the animals in Maryland, you’ll be reimbursed for travel expenses.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
- ASPCA offers volunteer opportunities to adopt, foster, provide rescue and rehabilitation services, and government relations.
Best for: Animal lovers open to potential travel opportunities.
Arts and Culture Initiatives
Arts and culture volunteer programs can allow you to get out and get in touch with your creative skills.
- National Endowment for the Arts
- Volunteer to become an arts endowment panelist to review applications for grants to create new art projects.
- A Local School, College or Museum
- Search schools, colleges or museums nearby and see if there’s any volunteer openings. You could help kids nurture their creative talent, guide art tours or help lead a college-level art course.
Best for: People looking to dip into their creative side during retirement. Bonus points if you have a background in art.
Religious Outreach Activities
If you want to feel more involved and connected to your religion, consider volunteering at your local temple, church, mosque or synagogue.
Best for: Those who prioritize their faith during retirement and want to provide for others.
Benefits of Volunteering as a Retiree
Volunteering regularly can substantially lower the risk of an early death, help you remain active and improve your overall sense of wellbeing, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study.
Karla Radka is the President and CEO at Senior Resource Alliance, a resource that assesses and coordinates with services and programs, such as volunteers, for older adults in various counties in Florida.
Radka spoke to RetireGuide about other benefits of volunteering as a retiree.
“Volunteering helps you live a life of purpose by staying connected and engaged with your community. At the bottom line, volunteering is all about hope.”
Generally, the benefits of volunteering as a retiree falls into three buckets: mental health, physical health and financial health benefits.
Mental Health Benefits
While the main benefit of volunteering during retirement is to combat social isolation, there are others to consider.
- Staying connected with your community
- Making new friends who share common interests
- Staying fulfilled
- Developing new interests
- Keeping your mind active to delay or prevent Alzheimer’s or other dementias
- Combat social isolation
“Social isolation is as damaging as smoking or other behavioral habits. Volunteering is about waking up the next day with that purpose in mind and combating social isolation.” Radka told RetireGuide.
Jan Stewart, chairwoman on the Board of Directors at Kerry’s Place Autism Services and consultant to the Tourette Association of America Education Advisory Board, is retired and volunteers regularly.
Stewart shared her experience with volunteering and how it affects her mental health.
“My volunteer activities have contributed to my own mental wellness. They not only keep my brain engaged in complex, thought-provoking issues, but they have opened my world to an entire new community and a ‘second family’ comprised of health care professionals, parents and caregivers, and other volunteers.”
“These activities are reaffirming to me, strengthen my emotional fortitude and give me satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment and a legacy that I can be proud of.”
Physical Health Benefits
Volunteering can help you lower your blood pressure, increase flexibility and activity, prolong your lifespan and reduce stress within your body, according to an article from the University of Maryland Medical System.
If you have poor health, be sure to choose a volunteering program that won’t stress your joints or muscles. For example, instead of building ramps for low-income housing accessibility, you could volunteer to hand out free meals to the community.
Volunteering helps the economy itself and provides you with potential tax breaks.
“There’s also actually an economic impact within volunteerism. All the work that volunteers do move forward the economy, communities and the wellbeing of individuals.” Radka told RetireGuide.
As for tax breaks, any volunteer of a §501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization is entitled to receive deductible charitable contributions, according to H&R Block.
Tips For Choosing The Right Opportunity
Follow the four tips listed below to help ensure you select the right volunteer opportunity.
- Consider your physical health.
- You can only reap the physical benefits of volunteering if you select the right program. For example, if you have arthritis, a volunteer program packing food for the homeless could cause you pain. Choose a safe, emotionally fulfilling and physically safe volunteer program that excites you.
- Verify the organization is legitimate and aligns with your personal values.
- Some volunteer programs, especially abroad programs, can be scams. Be wary of high unnecessary fees. Once you’ve verified the organization is legitimate, make sure their mission will provide you with a fulfilling experience.
- Utilize online resources.
- There are nationwide and local online resources to connect you to volunteer opportunities. Use both to get the best match.
- Network through your temple, church, mosque, synagogue or other local religious organizations.
- If your religion is very important to you, you can give back by volunteering at your local religious center. If your goal is to be more connected to your community, network through a local organization.
How To Get Started as a Volunteer
The first step is to use online resources, network through local organizations or speak to neighbors who already volunteer.
It may be in your best interest to speak to someone who already volunteers in the program you’re interested in. Ask them if they’re properly staffed and if it’s a fulfilling experience.
Volunteering should not feel like stressful work — it should be an opportunity filled with social connection and hope.
There’s likely an onboarding process or background check to complete before you start volunteering.
Radka oversees many onboarding processes for volunteer work and provided RetireGuide insight on the process.
“It is our fiscal and moral responsibility to be able to ensure that anyone who works in any of our projects goes through the onboarding process. Our onboarding process requires a level two background check.”
The extensiveness of training will also vary depending on where you choose to volunteer.
“In the case of SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders), there is an onboarding training program to understand the Medicare system. For meal distribution, there is an onboarding process to understand meal deliveries, food handling, customer service and then the compassion aspect of contact with seniors,” Radka told RetireGuide.
Frequently Asked Questions About Volunteering During Retirement
11 Cited Research Articles
- Karla Radka, President and CEO at Senior Resource Alliance
- Jan Stewart, Chairwoman on the Board of Directors at Kerry’s Place Autism Services and Consultant to the Tourette Association of America Education Advisory Board
- Patricia Bubash, M.Ed., LPC
- GVI People. (2023, March 30). Understanding the Time Commitment Required for Volunteering. Retrieved from https://www.gviusa.com/blog/smb-understanding-the-time-commitment-required-for-volunteering/
- Heaslip, E. (2023, March 14). How Do Charitable Donations Impact Your Taxes? Retrieved from https://www.uschamber.com/co/grow/marketing/charitable-donations-tax-implications
- Nakamura, J. (2022, July 27). Identifying Pathways To Increased Volunteering in Older US Adults. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-16912-x
- The University of Maryland Medical System. (2022, March 14). The Health Benefits of Volunteering. Retrieved from https://health.umms.org/2022/03/14/benefits-of-volunteering/
- Harvard School of Public Health. (2020, June 16). Study: Volunteering Is Good for Your Health. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/study-volunteering-is-good-for-your-health/
- H&R Block. (2018, February 2). Is Volunteer Work Tax Deductible? Retrieved from https://www.hrblock.com/tax-center/filing/adjustments-and-deductions/volunteer-work-tax-deductions/
- Americorps. (n.d.). AmeriCorps Seniors. Retrieved from https://americorps.gov/serve/americorps-seniors
- Alzheimer's Association. (n.d.). Can Alzheimer's Disease Be Prevented? Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/research_progress/prevention
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