I don’t need to tell you how volunteering can benefit you. Along with the satisfaction of helping a favorite cause, you can learn new skills or meet potential friends and colleagues. You might even see health benefits: studies have shown that people who volunteer regularly live longer lives and have lower rates of depression.
But let’s not forget the perks. If you’re already volunteering for the right reasons, there’s no need to shy away from the surface benefits of helping out: snacks, freebies and more. Some volunteer gigs have amazing perks that are just as good as your altruistic reason for being there. Here are six ways to get free lunch — or other perks — as a volunteer.
1. Usher at Theatres and Music Venues
Itching to see live performances on a regular basis, but tight on cash? Many theatres and music venues rely on volunteers to hand out playbills and show patrons to their seats. You’ll probably be on your feet for several hours, but you’ll get to enjoy most of the show. And, after a few performances, you’ll probably be able to recite the lines.
2. Guide Tours at Museums
As a college senior, I jumped at the chance to volunteer at a shiny new museum that tied into my studies. I had to take the first train downtown on Sunday mornings, but I earned great benefits: freedom to roam around the exhibits as I pleased; free tickets for friends and family; a generous discount at the museum café, which had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten in a museum; and several encounters with DC political bigwigs. Had I not been a regular volunteer, it would have cost me $20 to set foot in the museum.
If you wish your wallet allowed you to spend more time at your favorite museum, see if you can spend a few hours per week at the information desk or guiding visitors through an exhibit.
3. Work at Foodie Festivals
Does your city host a “Taste of” event to feature dishes from local restaurants? Tickets to taste can be pricey, so volunteering is definitely the best way to get in. After spending a few hours selling tickets or pouring drinks, you’ll probably receive several tasting tickets. Your volunteer status might even grant you a sneak peek at all the dishes before you wait in any lines. (Click to tweet this idea.)
4. Trade Your Time for Free Yoga
Have you checked the per-class rates at your local yoga studio? It probably costs $15 or $18 per class, right? If you want to practice with a group regularly, shelling out those class fees can hurt.
Ask if your favorite studio offers work-study hours (which may also be called an “energy exchange” or a “karma membership”). By running the front desk, laundering towels or mopping floors, you can earn free yoga classes. Think of it as a $20 bill you’re keeping in your pocket every time you earn a free class.
5. Get Your Hands Dirty at Community Gardens
Love to garden, but don’t have room for your own crops? Many schools have vegetable gardens that rely on volunteers to water, weed and harvest. A common reward: taking home a bag of the day’s bounty. You get fresh veggies at the perfect price (free!), while working on your green thumb.
6. Look for Local Special Events
Volunteer-dependent events (like conferences) frequently use the promise of free breakfast or lunch to lure participants. Don’t sign up for events every weekend just to get the free lunch; pick your passions and consider lunch or unlimited coffee as an added bonus. If you’re trying to stretch your food budget, getting a free meal over the weekend for your time and efforts can be a big help. And the organization you’re working with will be grateful for the help!
Your Turn: Do you like to volunteer? What’s your favorite way to contribute your time to your community, and what perks do you enjoy as a result?