Free Stuff Friday: Volunteering

It’s been a while since I posted a Free Stuff Friday entry, but last month my Mint account kept sending me angry text messages about going over budget so to celebrate the beginning of Cheapril (the April version of Cheaptober), I bring you: VOLUNTEERING.

No, you don’t have to enter the Hunger Games to be a volunteer, but think about all the free food and travel Katniss got!

How does volunteering get you free stuff? you may ask. Isn’t volunteering just working for free? Aren’t I actually the one giving someone else free stuff? Yes, technically. But volunteer gigs often come with lots of fabulous perk and, because you’re volunteering, you don’t have to feel bad for freeloading. 

The volunteer gig with the lowest level of commitment is probably helping at fundraising events. Most nonprofit organizations have at least one large fundraising event per year. These can be anything from low-key, casual gatherings to really ritzy glamorous soirees. The one thing they all have in common is that they need volunteers to help out! Usually volunteer roles at fundraisers involve checking guests in and helping with silent or live auctions. Nearly always, volunteer shifts don’t last the entire event, so you will have a chance to enjoy the event (and the food) for free. You typically won’t need to attend a special training or have special qualifications to volunteer at a fundraising event. To find out about these opportunities, reach out to your favorite organizations and see if they have upcoming events.

You can also explore longer-term volunteer opportunities. Volunteer recognition is a big part of being a successful volunteer manager, so you’ll probably get free cookies/coffee/snacks/candy or even something fancier like a pizza party at some point during the course of your volunteer term. Other possibilities include swag, like water bottles or key chains. At the organization I work for, any outside presenter who comes in receives their choice of prize after their presentation – and that’s just for an hour of showing a PowerPoint!

If you are a patron of the arts, consider volunteering at a theater or concert venue. Many places use volunteer ushers and they typically are allowed to watch all or part of the play. I used to volunteer at the Cedar Cultural Center which was a great way to see concerts for free as well.

You can also join a committee or a board of a nonprofit. This usually requires a higher level of commitment, but board meetings can have seriously fantastic food. Beyond that, if you’re a young professional hoping to build your resume, doing volunteer work within your career area (i.e. marketing or finance) is a great way to get free training and professional development. If the people you volunteer for really like you, they will often take you out for coffee or even lunch to thank you for your free labor.

By far my favorite volunteer gig is driving families to theater performances with a Minnesota-based youth development organization called Project SUCCESS. Each month, I sign up to drive Project SUCCESS students and their families to shows around the Twin Cities and then receive two free tickets to the show myself. I’ve had the opportunity to see shows at the Guthrie Theater that normally would cost over $60 for just the price of parking. And it’s for a good cause.

So next time you’re hoping to get some free stuff, think about the option of giving something in return. It’s usually super worth it.

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