Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

June 26,  2006  



Many volunteer opportunities for single people

By Thomas F. Coleman

If you are single and do volunteer work for civic, religious, charitable, or various nonprofit organizations, you are not alone.  Millions of other single people perform volunteer services too.

According to a new federal report released this month, about 20 million unmarried Americans served as volunteers last year.

The typical unmarried volunteer donated 44 hours of his or her time in 2005, which would account for nearly 900 million hours of service by unmarried volunteers as a whole.  Quite impressive.

This level of volunteer activity by unmarried and single Americans certainly should dispel the stereotype that singles are nothing but self-centered party people.  The new study, conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, shows that millions of single people are good-deed-doers.

About 29 percent of all Americans, regardless of marital status, did some form of volunteer work last year.  Some 34 percent of married people performed such service, compared with 23 percent of single people.  The higher rate of volunteering for married people, especially those with kids, seems understandable, since so many of them volunteer for activities involving their children.

And what types of services are Americans, whether single or married, performing?

Over one-third of volunteers reported coaching, refereeing, tutoring, mentoring, or teaching.  Fundraising or selling items to raise money for charity was the next most common activity, performed by almost 30 percent of volunteers.  The third most common form of service (26.3%) was collecting, preparing, distributing, or serving food.

If you do volunteer work already, then you know how personally rewarding it can be.  The satisfaction of giving can be emotionally and spiritually uplifting.

Volunteering does not have to be boring.  You can meet new people, make new friends, and find yourself doing things you never dreamed you could do or would do.

You can volunteer in your own community, in another state, or in another part of the world.  You can even do it while you are on vacation.

Single people might consider taking a "volunteer vacation."  You can sign up with a charitable organization to spend a week, or several weeks, performing valuable community service in a needy area and for a good cause.

But do your homework before you jump into this, since a volunteer vacation could cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars to pay for food and accommodations at the destination, not to mention the cost of round trip travel. 

A good first step might be to read a book on the subject, such as Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others (Chicago Review Press, 2003).

Earthwatch Institute may be your group of choice if you would like to volunteer with an international nonprofit organization that connects volunteers with scientific field research projects.  Imagine returning home and telling your family and friends about a vacation on which you were helping to excavate mummies in the Atacama Desert in Chile or to trace the history of Earth's fresh water back nearly 20,000 years in Mongolia's Gobi Desert.

Perhaps Global Volunteers is the group for you.  Joining their international efforts might find you working with children in Tanzania, or helping out at an orphanage in India, or lending a hand with a conservation project in Central America.

You might be drawn to Habitat for Humanity International's Global Village Program .  No previous building experience is required.  Your out of pocket costs with this organization may range from $1,000 to $2,200 for a nine-to-14 day trip overseas, not including airfare.

Maybe you would prefer something closer to home and less expensive.  Then consider the American Hiking Society. The cost of their volunteer vacations start at $130.

"You visit stunning backcountry locations to construct or rebuild footpaths, cabins and shelters," says the American Hiking Society website.  "In the process, you meet new people, explore canyons, peaks and valleys, enjoy quiet evenings around a fire and come home refreshed and rejuvenated."

For a list of other groups with Volunteer Vacation opportunities, check out the website of JustGive. (

For those singles who would like to meet other singles while doing volunteer work in an urban or suburban location in the United States, visit the website of Single Volunteers, Inc. (  They have chapters in about 18 states.

The Phoenix chapter's website invites singles to volunteer cooking at HomeBase Youth Services.  The Baltimore chapter's website asks singles to help Maryland Public Television with their pledge drive.  The group in Washington, DC wants singles to join together to help clean up the grounds of the National Zoo.

There are now about 95 million unmarried and single Americans.  If you are one of the 75 million who did not perform volunteer services last year, then I urge you to read this column again and think about how you could give of your time and talents.

Millions of singles already know how rewarding a volunteer experience can be.  How about you? 

Unmarried America 2006

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.