You are not here merely to make a living.
At least that's what Woodrow Wilson said. And I bought it.
Volunteering has been a recent topic of discussion at Odopod – what we're doing individually, and how we might make it a larger part of our culture. To some, the mere thought conjures up images of ladling soup and picking up litter. Such duties are vital and good, but there are plenty of ways to apply specialized skills in fields you're excited about.
I've rounded up some volunteer opportunities that are, for the most part, relevant to those working in digital – storytellers, designers, developers, et. al. These are specific to San Francisco, but I bet you'd find no shortage of options upon digging in your own backyard.
826 Valencia is a free writing and tutoring lab founded by author/publisher/philanthropist Dave Eggers and veteran educator Nínive Calegari. Beyond tutoring, 826 assists with in-classroom projects, hosts bookmaking, screenwriting, and poetry field trips, and empowers kids to become creative writers – with a good possibility of getting published. (If that's not enough, it's also a pirate supply store.) There are lots of ways to help out, mainly during or right after school. 826 also has chapters in Brooklyn, LA, Seattle, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Boston, and DC.
Good for: Storytellers, writers, illustrators, educators, natural born tutors, fans of kids.
San Francisco Bicycle Coalition
Web design. Bike culture. Potato, po-tah-to. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition employs bike advocacy with the goal of creating safer, more livable streets. If you're a writer or designer, you can help out with their quarterly Tube Times newsletter, or develop posters and campaign materials. They also enlist bike valet attendants for special events, which sounds mildly entertaining.
Good for: Designers, photographers, soapbox-types, bike (valet?) enthusiasts.
Moving on…museums! You know them, you love them, you volunteer at them. Wait, what? Well perhaps one day. Most museums offer flexible volunteer opportunities, catering to busy schedules as well as wide open calendars (ladies who lunch, I'm looking at you).
California Academy of Sciences
Cal Academy has a need for docents, orienteers, certified rescue divers, researchers, educators…phew. Several of the roles seem pretty involved, but I imagine they'd lead to great learning opportunities. Aquarium aides are trained to take care of animals. Divers might end up delivering presentations in the Philippine Coral Reef. Seriously.
Good for: Animal and nature lovers, natural science aficionados, part-time marine biologists.
SFMOMA'a volunteer roles fall into several departments: education, special events, the library, the museum store, and the admin office. Many of these are customer-facing. A couple standouts: Helping facilitate panels and lectures, assisting kids with art projects on Family Sundays. Most volunteers work on an on-call basis, though more specialized roles require longer-term commitments.
Good for: Art enthusiasts, curators, flexible schedules, "people" persons.
The Exploratorium, aka the museum of science, art, and human perception. It's highly interactive and kid-friendly. Volunteer opportunities sound enticing too. You can lend a hand at "Physics of Toys" workshops, gather research for upcoming installations, or, depending on your skill level, develop prototypes in the machine shop. They also have opportunities for groups.
Good for: Science buffs, gadget geeks, kids at heart.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
I've got seven words for you: Propagate and grow rare and unusual plants. If that's not enough to coax you, well… there's always the horticultural library.
Good for: Green thumbs.
A few more that colleagues brought to my attention:
Free design, architecture, photography, and fashion classes for inner-city youth, with the aim of channeling creativity into career paths. Classes are taught by local design pros, so get in touch with them if you're interested in helping out.
Recommended by: Michael Wang, Designer
The Cass Gidley Marina
This marina in Sausalito is being transformed into a non-profit youth sailing school. They're calling on volunteers to help fundraise, rebuild the marina, maintain boats, and much more.
Recommended by: Emily Yurko, Art Director
Taproot teams up marketing and technology professionals with non-profits in need of their services.
If you want to put your skills to good use, take on some pro bono work. Taproot also has offices in NY, LA, Chicago and DC.
Recommended by: Katey Martin, Executive Producer
PAWS provides companion animal services to low-income San Franciscans. Among other things, volunteers walk the dogs of individuals who aren't able to do so themselves. Hang out with canines on the regular, even if your cat hates dogs.
Recommended by: Greg Hernandez, Senior Producer
That's it! I hope I've provided you with at least a dash of inspiration to give back in a way that's meaningful to both you and your community. If you know of other interesting volunteer possibilities or have a story worth sharing, leave a comment below. Thanks.