58 Community Service Ideas for Nonprofits That Will Actually Add Value

August 20, 2023
12 minutes
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Done right, community service projects are a beautiful thing. Nonprofits get things done, and at the same time, volunteers get valuable life skills and that darn delightful feeling that comes with doing good. Yep, many times, community service is tops—good people donating their time and skills to help your mission. But many a nonprofiteer can tell you that it doesn’t always work out that way. Too often, volunteer opportunities take up valuable time and resources, all in the name of checking a box or boosting a publicly traded company’s image.

But no more! Today, we’re all about community service projects that truly add value for your nonprofit, no matter who’s doing the volunteering. We’ve got the tips, the tricks, and the examples. And, of course, we’ve got project ideas galore—nearly 60 of them, in fact. And for all of it, we’ll make sure you’re building relationships, spreading awareness, and getting things done that need to get done.

What should nonprofits know about community service ideas?

Community service is to nonprofits what cookies are to oatmilk or what movies are to popcorn with nutritional yeast (it’s so good). Whether it’s high school students looking for some extra credits or companies looking to boost morale, they’re about giving back and having an impact.

While everyone has the best of intentions when they sign up their marketing agency to volunteer with/cuddle your orphaned baby quokkas, that’s one more to-do for your already-stretched-thin staff to oversee, which takes away resources from your other programs and tasks, like the far less popular “applying to highly specific 200-page grants for quokka protection.” So, what’s a well-intentioned but overtaxed and underfunded nonprofit to do?

Here’s the good news: your nonprofit CAN cultivate community and build relationships through volunteer opportunities that truly add value for your organization. You CAN do better than losing money, goodwill, time, and progress to these types of programs. It's even possible to use community projects as a fundraising opportunity!

So, the question becomes: how can you provide valuable volunteer opportunities? From volunteering for service credits to projects for kiddos to team-building for companies, we’ve got ideas and tips to keep everyone on track.

How to plan great community service projects that add value

To get us started, let's look at how to come up with community service ideas that make sense for your nonprofit organization and your volunteers.

1. Identify your nonprofit's needs

Before planning any community service initiatives, take a step back and ask, "What do the communities we serve actually need?" You can do this through surveys, interviews, or collaborations with local organizations and leaders. Understanding the needs and priorities of the community will help you design effective and relevant service projects rather than wasting time on projects that don't have an impact.

2. Foster collaboration and partnerships

You can maximize your impact by collaborating with other organizations, businesses, and community members. There's power in numbers, so by forming partnerships, you can pool resources, share expertise, and reach a wider audience. For example, after a natural disaster, food banks and animal shelters can partner on a collaborative community service project focused on a food drive for both people and animals. More impact + collective responsibility? Yes, please! 

3. Tailor the opportunity to your volunteers

Just like no solution is one-size-fits-all, no community service project idea is right for every group. When a youth sports team asks to do a volunteer day at your nonprofit, that's going to be very different than when some executives from a big-name bank want to do it. The sports team is young, and they have lots of energy, so choose a community service activity that gets them moving (maybe a walk-a-thon) or fits their interests (hiya, toy drive!). The bank, on the other hand, has specialized skill sets and deep pockets. They can afford to donate expertise and funds, so don't be afraid to ask.

4. Maximize volunteer engagement

Once you've planned a service opportunity that works for your volunteers, you want to keep everyone engaged (and, ideally, retained). There are plenty of ways to do this, including creating a positive volunteer experience, offering meaningful roles, recognizing and appreciating their contributions, and forging strong personal connections. We're just saying: a birthday card goes a long way!

5. Think about sustainability

Even one-off events, like a donation drive or a charity race, can require a lot of time and resources from your team, so make sure you consider how sustainable a project is before committing. You'll want to consider what the community service opportunity will require in terms of staffing, funding, and resources, weighing those against the potential impact over time. If it's not worth it, think of something else. 

Time Out: What do community projects cost?

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And do you pass that cost along to the volunteers? It's certainly a question. 

This is just reality: How is your nonprofit supposed to provide community service opportunities, service credits, projects for youth and interns, team building for groups and companies... while not overtaxing your already-stretched staff, taking a loss on staff time ($$) or materials, or pushing aside your existing programs and constituents?

Consider adding a "suggested donation" or materials fee to these large-scale community projects. Your nonprofit (probably) doesn't exist to facilitate corporate interdepartmental team readiness, so don't pay for it!

How to communicate that groups have to pay for their volunteer opportunities

An even bigger question: How do you tell people that they need to pay to volunteer? Well, first, you're not necessarily charging individual volunteers who are doing this out of the desire to help, the alignment with their own values, and their passion for your mission. No, we're talking about charging to host groups that want to further their own objectives through volunteering.

Philly Goat Project's Corporate Team Building and "Volunteering" page

Philly Goat Project knows that groups may want to "volunteer" with the goats for free, but "free" labor has a cost—and the way they balance their needs with volunteer desires is masterful.

Habitat for Humanity's Premium Team Build page

Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley created both a webpage and a pdf to house information on the costs of group volunteering, with a sliding scale for larger and smaller groups.

Project Sunshine's FAQ page

Offering both virtual and in-person opportunities, and activities for different abilities, Project Sunshine is clear about what group volunteering costs cover, but vague on the specific price.

Move For Hunger's Take Action page

If you're looking to use corporate team building as a fundraising initiative, take a look at Move For Hunger!  Their group volunteering page is super enthusiastic and built to draw in corporate event marketer-types with a bold Request a Quote button. There are no FAQ, but also no question as to whether this is a free activity or not. (It's not.)

NapaRCD's Team Building and Community Support page

Nonprofit friends, don't forget your nonprofit friends! Napa County Resource Conservation District keeps you in mind with discounts (or no charge!) for nonprofit and community group volunteering. For the corporate folks, Napa RCD lays out specific costs so there are no surprises. 

How to implement a community service initiative at your nonprofit

All the pieces are in place for a super-impactful community service project. With your chosen project in mind, you can move onto implementation. Ready, set, action!

Set a goal

What do you want to accomplish with your community service opportunity? Is it about general education? Connecting with potential donors? Building your network? Raising funds? Make sure you know exactly why you're holding this event before you invest time, energy, and money into it. 

Determine your resources

With a clear goal in mind, you can determine what resources you need to deliver a successful event. Will your volunteer coordinator need to be on-site the whole time? That's a full day that they'll be out of the office. Will you need do a training? Provide snacks or supplies? Get special insurance? Do extensive prep work? Take all of this into account to ensure a successful event that doesn't overtax your org.

Decide how much to charge your volunteers

Yep, you read that right. Charge your volunteers to help you out. Not all of them, certainly, but the large parties that are looking for a one-time volunteer opportunity for school credits, corporate team-building, or to do a fun activity as a group will incur a cost for your nonprofit, as we noted earlier. For these projects to do more than just spin up synergy, you'll need to consider requiring each group to donate money in addition to their time.

Find a partner (if necessary)

Sometimes, having a partner organization can make a community service opportunity a heck of a lot better, both in terms of expense and execution. If you're working on a community mural, consider asking the local art store to donate art supplies. Hosting a bake sale? Maybe the grocery store will donate supplies (or cake mix, for the truly short-on-time among us). Also, consider partners who might sponsor the event or advertise it widely.

Finalize procedures

Just like with any event, you'll want to plan out what the day looks like to ensure everything runs smoothly. Consider how people will sign up, forms to sign, instructions, trainings, and timing.

Find participants

What group would make this a successful community service project? Do you need anyone with particular expertise? Do you want folks with a lot of time on their hands—or a lot of funds? What are the age limitations? Do they need to be able to lift 30 pounds? Consider all of this before matching an individual or group to a community service opportunity.

Launch your community project!

The time is now!

Measure impact

Just like any initiative, you'll want to regularly evaluate the effectiveness and impact of your community service initiatives. Collect data, get feedback from community members, and look at the bottom line. By measuring the impact, you can make informed decisions, improve your service projects, and demonstrate the value of your work to donors and stakeholders.

Community service project ideas for nonprofits

With all our volunteer ducks in a row, let's move on to the community service ideas! And for each idea below, we'll tell you the ideal volunteer group to take it on to maximize the impact.

Education and literacy community projects

1. Tutoring students in subjects like math, science, or reading. For education nonprofits, high school students make great volunteers—plus, volunteering adds a little shimmer to those college applications.

2. Hosting a book or school supplies drive for low-income schools or libraries. Get a parent to lead it and a middle school class to collect the items. They have the skills and are still young enough for it to be cute!

3. Organizing a workshop to teach basic computer skills to seniors or underprivileged individuals. The next time a tech company asks to volunteer to rake leaves for your organization, tell them to put those six-figure skills to better use. They can share their computer know-how with elderly people or help those looking for jobs to up-level their tech skills. 

4. Volunteering at after-school programs to help students with homework or extracurricular activities. Again, this is a great one for high school students any day of the week or college students who are home for the holiday.

5. Organizing a community book club. Whatever your nonprofit industry, having an on-theme book club is a great way to retain donors and educate them. Ask a passionate volunteer with strong communication skills to spearhead the effort.

Environmental conservation ideas

6. Participating in beach or park clean-up events. This is perfect for a big group or community event. It doesn't require a lot of oversight, and the more people, the better, so look for a long-time volunteer to take on a leadership role, then sit back and enjoy that spotless beach.

7. Planting trees in local parks or neighborhoods. We all love more trees, but planting them correctly can be a lot of work. You'll need to host a training and have your busy volunteer coordinator oversee each planting. So, in this case, your time and resources might be better spent training tree-planting crew leaders, who are truly passionate about your cause. They can then take the lead in the year ahead.

8. Educating the community about recycling and waste reduction. Knowledge is power, and if everyone knew how to recycle properly, we'd all be wearing fashionable hats made of soda cans by now. The next time someone with a lot of experience and a lot of time on their hands (we see you, recent retirees!) asks to lend a hand with data entry, ask them to take on a bigger role as an ambassador and change-maker, speaking at special events or writing for your community newsletter.

9. Starting a community garden to promote sustainable agriculture. This is a big one, so you want a committed crew with community spirit. Use the opportunity to source long-term volunteers to maintain the garden, too.

10. Starting a butterfly garden. To get people extra-pumped about that community garden, lure them in with Milkweed Acres, a special section just for the butterflies. 

11. Cleaning up a trail with a guided hike. Turn trail clean-up into an educational opportunity and a fundraiser by charging volunteers to join an experienced staff member on a day-long clean-up and guided hike. You share fun facts, they clean up, and everyone gets lemonade after.

Health and wellness community-building ideas

12. Assisting at local food banks or soup kitchens. Food pantries always need a helping hand with packing boxes, stocking shelves, and sorting cans of food. This is a great team-building activity that also gets the job done.

13. Hosting a community blood drive to support local hospitals or emergency services. This requires lots of resources and specialized skills, so make sure you have a full day's worth of blood donations lined up before hand.

14. Organizing fitness or wellness workshops for underserved communities. Want to fundraise and help those in need? Have your volunteer run the classes on a sliding scale, where low-income folks get in free, but those who can afford it have the option to donate an entry fee.

15. Running a healthy bake sale. Healthy baked goods help people realize they can stay healthy and eat delicious foods, plus all those funds go to your organization. This is one of those win-win opportunities.

Community development for homelessness and poverty nonprofits

16. Serving meals at homeless shelters or community kitchens. If you run a community organization that provides food for homeless people, organizing volunteers to serve meals is a great way to build community and check off those community service hours.

17. Collecting and distributing hygiene kits or clothing to individuals experiencing homelessness. Homeless shelters and folks experiencing homelessness are always in need of hygiene items and new clothes, particularly winter clothing. You can have a group of volunteers host a clothing drive or ask individuals to put together care packages on their own.

18. Organizing fundraisers to support affordable housing initiatives. The next time someone offers to volunteer, consider whether said volunteering could be a P2P fundraiser. Raising money for affordable housing is the perfect group fundraiser, with a clear goal that everyone can get behind.

19. Providing job skills training or resume-building workshops for individuals in need. A perfect fit for recent retirees or current professionals. Once they've committed, ask them to refer you to others in their network to spread that volunteer love. 

20. Professional clothing drive. Reduce clothing waste and help those in need to get on a better career path? That's the power of a clothing drive. A trusted volunteer can manage most of it, too, ensuring all the clothing is washed and appropriate.

Animal welfare-based ideas for community building

21. Volunteering at animal shelters or rescue organizations. Socializing the animals? Great. Volunteering to clean cages? Greater. Donating a substantial amount to cuddle your rescue goats? The Philly Goat Project does it, and it's the best.

22. Fostering pets until they find their forever homes. For anyone who wants to lend a helping hand to animals in need but is not ready to commit to adoption, foster parents can take care of animals and then give 'em back when they find a furever home. Offer to provide the supplies but let everyone know that if they'll pay for them, that's one more dollar going to your cause.

23. Organizing pet adoption events to find homes for animals in need. Do those foster parents have a little extra time? Ask long-time volunteers to spearhead adoption events and bring their adoptable fur-babies along.

24. Assisting with wildlife conservation efforts. Helping injured wildlife sounds great, but we know that in reality, it requires a lot of specialized training from animal welfare organizations. New volunteers should make a long-term commitment, and if other folks want to tour your center or lend a hand, they can pledge to adopt a rhino or protect an acre of rainforest in exchange for an up-close experience.

25. Educating the community about responsible pet ownership and animal welfare. Again, this is a great way to increase the responsibility of long-time pet foster parents.

Arts and culture community projects

26. Volunteering at local museums, art galleries, or cultural institutions. This requires a whole lot of knowledge and might be more effort than it's worth for you. Maybe see if an art history major from the local college wants an internship instead?

27. Organizing art workshops or classes for underserved communities. Great for retired teachers or aspiring teachers, but you'll want folks with some teaching experience. If you want something that doesn't zap your resources, you can ask folks to put together craft kits or to-go art projects to hand out instead.

28. Assisting with theater productions or community performances. This is an especially good opportunity for anyone with marketing experience or anyone with a passion for ushering. Get the word out!

29. Collecting art for a charity auction. Art auctions are a great way to fundraise, so instead of asking people to donate funds, ask them to collect art for your next auction.

30. Hosting cultural events or festivals to celebrate diversity. Everyone love love loves a festival, so organizing a cultural event is a great way for others to pay it forward and spread awareness of your cause. You can assign different parts of the event to different groups of volunteers based on their skills, partnering with local businesses for a community parade and young people for activities for kids.

Senior services community-building ideas

31. Providing transportation assistance for elderly individuals to medical appointments or grocery shopping. This requires some logistics on the front end, but after, your volunteers can use their own car (and gas money) to drive seniors where they need to go, creating beautiful long-term relationships with elderly people and your organization.

32. Organizing social activities or outings for seniors in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. You'll need to handle transportation, so think carefully before organizing a project in which everyone leaves the senior center.

33. Offering technology assistance to seniors to help them stay connected with loved ones. While you have technology tutors around, see how they can help with your IT issues and upgrade your fundraising tech. (We can help with that, too!)

34. Providing companionship and support to isolated or homebound seniors. This is a great opportunity, too, for those hoping to improve their language skills with seniors from different backgrounds.

35. Providing retirement coaching. People are living longer and longer, and low-income people are working longer and longer. Recruit finance professionals to provide free financial advice and leadership coaches to help folks plan what they'll do with their time. A bonus? Once folks are financially set, part of their retirement plan could be giving back ... with you!

Community-focused disaster relief projects

36. Assisting with disaster preparedness initiatives in the community. Have your volunteers set up a booth at community outreach events to educate folks about planning for disasters and give out supplies. This is also a great fundraising opportunity because some nice folks might want to donate in exchange for their disaster services care package.

37. Crowdfunding for disaster relief services. Crowdfunding is one of the greatest forms of community service. It requires no special training beyond some messaging from you, and it quickly gets funds exactly where they need to go.

38. Volunteering at local emergency shelters during natural disasters. In an all-hands-on-deck situation, welcome the whole community into the fold. When the literal or metaphorical dust has settled, follow up to see how they can help outside of a crisis.

39. Organizing fundraisers to support disaster relief organizations. Disasters always require a lot of supplies and a lot of emergency funds. Connect with local businesses to set up a donation drive or even run their own charity auction. You want this to be some hands-off community service, building community and generating revenue but not requiring too much from you.

40. Providing resources to individuals affected by disasters. In the face of a disaster, you need supplies and funds, not would-be therapists. If folks want to give back, ask them to fundraise and put together care packages of necessary items. Leave the emotional support to the professionals.

Youth development community service 

41. Mentoring at-risk youth or serving as a role model. This is a long-term commitment that requires training and dedication.

42. Organizing leadership or life skills workshops for young people. Leadership and life coaching is a big thing these days, and it pays well. If any consulting groups come your way looking for a one-off experience, point them toward holding workshops that will have a tangible impact.

43. Assisting with after-school programs or summer camps for underprivileged youth. If the local public school wants to help out, this is a perfect opportunity for high school students to support younger kids in need.

Community engagement ideas

44. Participating in community clean-up events or beautification projects. There are always opportunities to make your community nicer, and for big group team-building, this is a great way to keep everyone busy and have an impact. But first, issue a challenge: will they donate $10 for every bag of garbage collected?

45. Hosting community forums or town hall meetings to address local issues. Community improvement is all about grassroots efforts, but be sure to provide some talking points before asking folks to host forums or meetings. You want everyone aligned on current events and on message when it comes to solutions.

46. Supporting initiatives that promote diversity, inclusion, and social justice. If you need policy changes to make real change, reach out to volunteers who've been there, done that. This is also a great way to diversify your volunteer base and board membership.

47. Registering folks to vote. It's a bipartisan victory! Folks will need some training to ensure they stay on message, but as they sign people up, they can also sign them up to learn more about your organization, making this a community service double whammy.

48. Removing graffiti and painting a mural. Beautify your local area by organizing a group to remove graffiti. Then, make it even more beautiful with a mural—a mural that reflects your work and casually name-drops your organization. Up the fundraising fun by selling drinks and snacks to the aspiring artists.

49. Speaking a second language with immigrants or refugees. If you have neighbors that are seeking to improve their language skills, volunteer to help them out. In the future, they can return the favor by helping others in their community.

Community projects that support veterans

50. Volunteering at veterans' hospitals or rehabilitation centers. Be specific about each volunteer role and the time commitment and training to ensure you're getting qualified, dedicated volunteers.

51. Assisting with job placement or career counseling for veterans. Anyone in a helping profession can do the veteran community a great service by helping veterans achieve their career aspirations. Help with resumes, job interview prep, or networking.

52. Organizing care package drives for deployed military personnel. Volunteers can handle this one entirely on their own! Note that this is a particularly important community service activity when birthdays roll around. Make sure they're showered with birthday gifts, from cupcakes to confetti!

Community projects that focus on food security

53. Building a community fridge (or five). You'll need to provide the materials, but community fridges are a great opportunity for folks to directly help others and get the word out about your organization. Ask them to provide the cans of food (so it's not taking away resources from your food pantry), then send them materials to proudly feature your logo and a QR code that goes directly to your donation form.

54. Organizing food drives to collect donations for those experiencing food insecurity. There are so many spins you can put on a donation drive, from food and clothing to toiletries or stuffed animals. 

55. Creating meal kits for major holidays. Every year, we stuff ourselves around major holidays (except the ones where you fast!) while so many go hungry. This is a great time to ask people to create and deliver meal kits to those in need. Make it really worth your time by finding a corporate sponsor to match the value of said kits.

56. Assisting with meal delivery programs for homebound individuals or seniors. Perfect for anyone with a car, and it requires very little time or training from you.

Community-building ideas for disability support

57. Increasing accessibility around town. Whether it's installing wheelchair ramps or ensuring bike trail maintenance, it's everyone's job to make your city or town accessible to everyone. If folks need to complete community service hours, this is a job for them.

58. Assisting with adaptive sports programs or recreational activities for individuals with disabilities. This is perfect for youth sports teams looking to give back and use their skills. 

Nonprofit volunteers are a vital resource, and nonprofiteers everywhere are so grateful for them. Still, community service is a two-way street, so you need to look both ways before saying yes to every corporate team-building request. We hope these ideas have you ready to raise funds, make change, and build goodwill all year long.

Community Service Projects FAQ

What is the easiest community service?

For a nonprofit, the easiest community service project lets you sit back while important things get done. Crowdfunding campaigns are low-effort and bring in much-needed funds for your organization, while donation drives get you the items you need without the need for specialized volunteer training.

What is an example of a community project?

See our list above for nearly 60 amazing examples of community projects for all sorts of causes. Some particularly popular ones include renovating a community center, holding a food drive, or painting a community mural.

What is the most common type of community service?

It depends on where you live and what you're interested in. Donation drives are common, as are volunteer tutoring, neighborhood clean-ups, and helping out at hospitals, homeless shelters, or schools.

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