There is a misconception that only people of faith in the
supernatural -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. -- engage
in acts of charity, donate to humanitarian causes, and volunteer.
But the reality is that many people who are not religious, and people
who do not believe in God, engage in acts of charity, donate to
humanitarian causes, and volunteer to help the environment,
help children, promote the arts, help the elderly, etc.
Just look at the number one donating group on Kiva: it's the "Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious" group.
There are a growing number of atheist and secular groups that engage in volunteering. Some groups are focused specifically on volunteering, like the SECULAR Center or the Secular Service Club - PhillyCoR: Greater Philadelphia Coalition. Most atheist and secular group volunteering is done through local atheist, secular and ethical societies, coalitions, associations, etc. These are terrific groups to join if you want to volunteer in a group and want to do so with like-minded people who won't try to convert you to any religion.
How do you find a local group? Go to Google.com and type in the name of your city, or the nearest large city, and type in any of these words
Center for Inquiry
Atheist and Humanist-Supported Charities
Many Atheists and Humanists prefer to support nonprofits, NGOs and charities that are not faith-based, that help anyone who needs their services, and do not use any faith in a deity, or several deities, to justify or deliver their work. There are oh-so-many nonprofit organizations that help the homeless, help people in need of food, help people in need of medical care, train people to re-enter the workforce, work with kids, etc., that are NOT faith-based. To know if an organization is faith-based or not, simply go to the organization's web site and look at the organization's mission statement, which can be found on the "About" or "History" page. For instance, the Salvation Army is a Christian organization; Goodwill is not. The Boy Scouts of America is a faith-based organization and requires a belief in a god and a heterosexual preference to be involved as a member or volunteer; by contrast, the Girl Scouts of the USA are inclusive, and do not require any belief in god or a particular sexual preference in order to participate.
Not all faith-based organizations discriminate among clients or proselytize as a part of their work - you will only know how they use their faith in their work, if at all, if you ask.
There are some charities that were started or are supported primarily by Atheists and Secularists. For instance, Foundation Beyond Belief is a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation created to focus, encourage and demonstrate the generosity and compassion of atheists and humanists. The foundation selects and features 10 charitable organizations per quarter, one in each of the following cause areas: health, education, poverty, environment, child welfare, human rights, animals, peace, the "Big Bang" Fund (small charity, big impact), Foundation Beyond Belief itself.
Want to help at summer camp? Camp Quest offers residential summer camps in various locations in the USA aimed at the children of Atheists (Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, or whatever other terms might be applied to those who hold to a scientific, not supernatural, world view), to provide those children with a fun camping experience that teaches about improving the human condition through rational inquiry, critical and creative thinking, scientific method, self-respect, ethics, competency, democracy, free speech, and the separation of religion and government. Camps offer a mix of traditional summer camp activities - like archery, canoeing/kayaking, crafts, field trips, games, climbing, hiking, horseback riding, swimming, etc. - and educational activities related to the Camp Quest mission. More about Camp Quest volunteering opportunities.
A secular-based international charity is Responsible Charity, dedicated to educating children in the slums of Calcutta, India and empowering women and men there to overcome poverty. It was founded by a backpacker who was disgusted by "the abuse and horrible conditions which men and woman were subjected to under a worldwide famous charity that collects millions of dollars from its donors... Unlike some religious-based organizations which have no progressive plans in effect to educate and empower the children, women and men out of poverty, Responsible Charity would like to make advances in areas of education, planned parenthood and self employment." For excellent updates about the organization's work in India, subscribe to the Responsible Charity Facebook page. They do accept visitor's from abroad, so if you want to fund your own trip to India and do some onsite work with them, contact them BEFORE your trip (remember - YOU must pay ALL of your expenses if you choose to go!).
There's also The Uganda Humanist Schools Trust, which has founded three schools in Uganda and is looking to create even more. "We are determined to protect students from any form of indoctrination, instead they will be exposed to various world views. They will be encouraged to think freely, to be rational and skeptical, to value and respect humanity and be tolerant towards others."
Foundation Beyond Belief (FBB) is sponsoring the Pathfinders Project, a year-long volunteer journey, taking four humanist volunteers across the world to work in education, clean water, human rights and construction projects, and to evaluate programs for inclusion in a future Humanist Service Corps (HSC). "The HSC will serve their fellowman in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries, but with more focus on encouraging and demonstrating the generosity and compassion of secular humanists."
In addition to these organizations which were founded specifically as secular, most nonprofits, NGOs, charities and organizations meant to improve the lives of people or to create a better environment have no religious affiliation. If you want to make sure you are never supporting a religion through volunteering or donating, simply ask the organization that is doing something you are interested in if it has any religious affiliation.
Are You A Secular/Atheist Group Looking for Group Volunteering?
Do you represent one of these groups and you are looking for volunteering activities your members can do together? This resource on group volunteering can help. You could even get ambitious and start your own community initiative, creating a group volunteering activity that has much bigger impact than just a beach cleanup.
You could also go to the Girl Scouts of the USA national web site and find the council office that serves your area. There is probably a way on that local council web site for you to register as a volunteer (each member of your group will have to register separately). Then look around on the web site and see if there is a Girl Scout day camp or single event in your area that your group could help with as volunteers. You need to volunteer at least two months in advance for many events. Day camps need people to lead hikes, lead craft-making (the crafts are usually already defined, but your recommendations would also be welcomed), lead singing, cook, make posters for the event (with song lyrics, directing girls to craft tables, telling them how to clean up after the event, etc.) and staff the registration table at the start of the event, among many other activities. Events like cookie-kick offs and badge days need volunteers for similar activities.
Keep Track & Promote What You Do!
Keep track of your group's volunteering activities. Keep track of the organization's you assist, the number of hours your group contributes, and on which dates your group helps.
Talk about your group's volunteering online, on your organization's web page and blog, on your group's Facebook page or Twitter account, etc., to help get recognition for your efforts and to help change minds about who volunteers and why.
If your group does engage in a high-impact community initiative, consider nominating your group for local or state volunteering awards. Even if you don't win, you are still getting recognition for your efforts and changing minds about who volunteers and why. For instance, Texas, Oregon, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine and various other states have annual Governor's Volunteer Awards (in California, it's called the Governor and First Lady's Service Award), recognizing group and individual volunteer efforts.
Are You An Organization Looking to be More-Welcoming of Secular/Atheist Volunteers?
One of the best places to start is learning about what Atheists
really are. If you have been raised in a religious culture, you
probably have a lot of misconceptions about what an atheist is.
A good place to start educating yourself about atheists,
secularists and free thinkers is via this:
How to Find Volunteering Opportunities, a resource for adults who want to volunteer
How to Make a Difference Internationally/Globally/in Another Country Without Going Abroad
Donating Things Instead of Cash or Time (In-Kind Contributions)
Details on how to quickly fill a community service obligation from a court or school.
Ideas for Leadership
Ideas for Funding Your Volunteering Abroad Trip.
Details on volunteering abroad (volunteering internationally).
Careers Working With Animals (for the benefit of animals)
Helping People Address Their Problems
Credits & Copyright
© 2010-12 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.
Please contact me for permission to reprint, present or distribute these materials.