21 Places to Look for Green Volunteering Opportunities

Reuters/Green Biz
Thursday, May 14, 2009

By Carolyn Mansfield

Volunteering in the field you’ve targeted for your career path has proven to be a winning strategy, especially in today’s economy as thousands look for jobs and strive to get an edge on the competition. Carolyn Mansfield of Bright Green Talent provides a road map for volunteers who want to develop skills, gain experience or simply help out with eco-friendly projects. Her post originally appeared on Bright Green Talent Musings, her company’s blog.

Go help clean up your local park, or find a summer or seasonal job in a national park through The Student Conservation Association.

We always encourage the jobseekers that come to us to volunteer with environmentally focused organizations/initiatives in order to network, get some green experience on their resume and do good as they’re jobsearching.

So, you ask: What opportunities are there to dive into a green career through volunteering?

Nonprofits: Given the state of the economy, nonprofits need a lot of help right now and could really value your volunteer time. Find a nonprofit in your area that works on issues you’re interested in — policy, water issues, international development, etc. Do keep in mind that it’s better to focus on a specific project that you are willing to help with or spearhead. Idealist.org has an extensive list of volunteer opportunities that you can sort by interest and location to get a sense for what’s out there. Find your local Sierra Club chapter; Green for All has resources on how to support green jobs growth in your local community.

Get down and dirty: Add some manpower to a green building project and get industry exposure at the same time. GRID Alternatives is popular in the Bay Area, where volunteers help install solar panels on low-income housing. Habitat for Humanity has some green building related projects as well. Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco seeks volunteers to help with tree-planting. Find your local community garden project or farmer’s market and offer to help out. Join AmeriCorps for a year of service. Go help clean up your local park, or find a summer or seasonal job in a national park through The Student Conservation Association.

Get political: Find your state PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) and help it canvass and push green legislation in your state (we’ve got Environment California here in the Bay Area). Apply to spend a year working with GreenCorps, a year-long, hands-on training program around the U.S. that breeds the country’s top environmental organizers (and has a really strong job placement program and alumni network to take advantage of at the end).

Go abroad! Foundation for Sustainable Development places students and recent grads in internships in developing countries around the world. You are placed in a domestic nonprofit there depending on your development-related interests and can design your own project, seek funding, and get some great hands-on experience … all while experiencing a new culture. Ecoteer.com connects you with green volunteer opportunities around the world. Join Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and spend some time trading your work for room and board in one of many countries around the world that hosts a WWOOF network.

Take a “pay the bills job” and volunteer for a company you’re interested in. Make sure you have a specific project suggestion to put in front of them, rather than just willingness to work. For example, a 2007 graduate named Ajay sent us this note about his efforts to get “green” experience. He works for a utility, and offers a few days a week for free to a solar company in the area, which he reached through a contact there (go network!). As he says, “The more I work with this solar manufacturer, the more people I meet and the more people know my name.” Troll green job boards such as GreenBiz.com and Treehugger and unpaid internships or volunteering; use contacts at these organizations and others to find out whether you can lend a hand.

Network: Another example is helping to organize green networking events in your city. Green Drinks is a great monthly meet-up that has chapters in many cities. Contact your local chapter to help organize; if none exists, start one! We’re working with an amazing team of Green Drinks volunteers here in San Francisco that are helping set up a “Green Careers Connections” event — by doing so, they’re networking with each other and reaching out to lots of companies that they might be interested in working for themselves. We’re also big fans of Net Impact — lend a hand with your local chapter and get connected to passionate professionals.

Conferences need volunteers. When you hear a green conference is coming to town, find out ways to volunteer with the organization and actual conference. Green Festivals needs lots of hands on deck; keep an eye on GreenBiz.com’s list of events for anything being planned near you.

If you’re already out there volunteering, share your success story by adding a comment below.

Carolyn Mansfield is the community engagement associate at Bright Green Talent, which helps connect people with green jobs around the world.

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