There are many great reasons to volunteer. If you’re in the United States, there’s a central resource where you can check for opportunities to serve others. It’s, which is the United We Serve website. The idea is that Americans can individually help the economic recovery and do their part to restore unity in the country.

Think about it this way. You’re interested in finding government grants, but you have the opportunity to provide an in-kind grant to the government by volunteering your valuable time and unique skills. It’s not strictly a one-way street, though. With individual citizens fulfilling roles that the government would otherwise have to pay for, that frees up funding that can go toward functions that is a better fit for government agencies can provide. For example, a government grant may be allocated to create a community job center, which would be a difficult role for a few individuals to fulfill.

You may even have taken advantage of–or at least heard of–government-sponsored help from individuals. One of the best-known examples is SCORE, which is the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE offers business mentoring services, with expert advice provided by retired business executives and entrepreneurs, who donate their time to provide advice and knowledge to new and established small businesses. Government grants do provide for the administrative structure, but it’s the individuals’ volunteerism that is the heart of the organization.

Now here’s a little bonus for you if you choose to volunteer. When you’re applying for government grants, the qualifications of the potential recipients are assessed. One important factor is experience in the field for which you’re asking for funding. Volunteer service is a great way to gain experience and insight. Plus, it looks good on a government grant application if you can show that you’re genuinely interested in doing good. Being able to list your volunteer service demonstrates that you will be likely to use the government grant money wisely and with the big goal in mind.

If you’re interested in starting a non-profit of your own, there’s no better way to get a feel for how it all works than to start in the trenches and learn all aspects of it. Non-profits operate a little differently from other organizations, so it pays to get familiar with how they work before trying to run one. Even if you’re able to get the 501(c)(3) designation, you won’t get far with government grant funders if you can’t show that you have a clue about what you’re doing.

Now that I’ve hopefully made you aware that volunteering can help you in a number of ways, here’s how the United We Serve website can help you get started. It not only helps you find volunteer opportunities in your community, but you can also create your own (again, preferably once you know what you’re doing). Once you’re ready to spearhead a volunteer effort, a toolkit is provided on the website so that it will operate smoothly. You can post your project on the website and even later share your success story.

To volunteer, you can enter search data such as keywords to indicate your area of interest and search for opportunities in your community, or wherever you choose. For instance, I looked for animal-related volunteer opportunities in the Bellingham, Washington area, and was rewarded with listings for everything from performing research, to cleaning cages. There really is something for everyone, and your unique talents are in demand somewhere. You can sign up for email alerts and updates to keep on top of what’s currently being offered.

It pays to expand your thinking about receiving government grants. By initially providing your own services, you are likely to have it come back to you, multiplied many time over.