12 Great San Diego Nonprofits to Volunteer With

12 Volunteer Opportunities in San Diego

Research shows that giving your time and energy to charity can benefit your health and happiness. Studies find that helping someone else decreases stress levels by interrupting tension-producing patterns and replacing them with a sense of purpose, positive emotions and high confidence levels. 

There are dozens of wonderful charities in San Diego County to volunteer with, whether your passion lies with helping the homeless, tutoring children, environmental work, the elderly, or fighting cancer. View the list below of some of our favorite nonprofits in San Diego.   

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Just In Time for Foster Youth

At age 18, foster youth "age out" of the system. No longer receiving assistance, and without family support or a network to help them along to self-sufficiency, about 45% of those leaving foster care become homeless within a year. Only 10% will attend college and only 1-3% will obtain a bachelor’s degree. In addition, more than 70% of all state penitentiary inmates are former foster youth.

Just in Time for Foster Youth (JIT) is a San Diego nonprofit that engages a caring community to help transition-age foster youth (ages 18-26) achieve self-sufficiency and well-being. Through a combination of emergency support, essential resources, and caring personal relationships and guidance, JIT provides a reliable “extended family” that leads to dramatically different outcomes for the over 500 participants each year. 

Some of their many services include providing financial support in emergency situations (including rent, bus passes, gas cards, grocery gift cards, clothing, and vehicle repair), help furnishing youth’s living spaces, providing laptops, printers, and school supplies to college bound students, career and money management mentoring, and much more.

How to Volunteer:

JIT counts on volunteers to provide the resources, relationships, and expertise for much-needed services to transitioning foster youth. You can volunteer your time in skills in various ways by visiting the link below.

San Diego Food Bank 

Currently in San Diego County, 1 in 6 people; 1 in 7 adults; and 1 in 5 children are food insecure, meaning that little or no food is available at home, and those who are food insecure do not know how they will get their next meal. The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank is the largest hunger-relief organization in San Diego County, serving an average of 370,000 people per month. Nonprofit partners include: food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, low-income daycare centers, senior centers, faith-based organizations, schools, and day centers for the elderly and disabled.

How to Volunteer: 

Anyone 11 years or older can help in the warehouse, at food distribution sites, and at Food Bank events. Training is not required and you may volunteer one time, or on a regular basis. 

San Diego Coastkeeper

San Diego Coastkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego County. They use community outreach, education and advocacy to empower San Diegans to guard their clean water and healthy ecosystem. Their team of scientists, activists, educators and lawyers work with the community and decision-makers to protect the waters in San Diego County.

How to Volunteer: 

In partnership with Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Coastkeeper hosts twice-monthly beach cleanups. You can also volunteer in their laboratory, at events, and more. 

San Diego Rescue Mission 

San Diego Rescue Mission is a non-profit homeless shelter and recovery center serving thousands of homeless, hungry, and poor women, men, and children in San Diego since 1955. Some of their programs provided are emergency shelters for  women and children, a men’s residential rehabilitation program, a women and children’s residential program, a preschool, a recuperative care unit, transitional housing, work therapy, and more.    

How to Volunteer: 

Ages 16+ can volunteer with the San Diego Rescue Mission in a number of ways, including Christmas meal outreach, at the thrift store or warehouse, at the transitional housing or recuperative care units, tutoring, and more. 

Traveling Stories

Did you know children in low-income households are 15 times more likely to drop out of school if they cannot read proficiently by the fourth grade? In the U.S., 82% of disadvantaged children do not read at grade-level. Traveling Stories is a nonprofit that’s outsmarting poverty one book at a time by providing the literacy and money management skills kids need to be productive members of society. 

Traveling Stories does this through their innovative StoryTent programs where kids read out loud with volunteers and earn “book bucks” for each book read. They’re even invited to negotiate for more bucks and can earn by reading outside the program. With their book bucks, kids can buy prizes. 

How to Volunteer: 

Want to help? Join Traveling Stories as a volunteer at a StoryTent in San Diego County, or host a fundraiser!


YALLA is a nonprofit organization that combines the promise of education and the passion of soccer to inspire refugee and immigrant youth to achieve a college education. YALLA starts in elementary school with youth from around world from places like Liberia, Iraq, Sudan, Guatemala, El Salvador, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Mexico. They utilize state of the art education technology to help the youth build a strong literacy and math foundation. Every student has a curriculum individualized to their needs and supported by a diverse network of volunteer tutors and academic staff.

These students also play in a competitive and developmental soccer program that emphasizes skill acquisition, individual responsibility to grow as a player, and teamwork.

How to Volunteer: 

There are many ways to get involved with YALLA, from coaching and tutoring, to fundraising. To learn more, visit the link below.

Serving Seniors

Serving Seniors is a San Diego nonprofit providing impactful programs and life sustaining services to seniors age 60+ living in poverty. Programs include meals, affordable housing, social and supportive services, lifelong learning, and health and wellness services.

How to Volunteer: 

Do you want to be the highlight of someone’s day? How about their whole week? Even though one hour may not seem like much to you, that hour means the world to the seniors. Volunteer opportunities include serving lunch, teaching a class, hosting a social activity, visiting, playing a game, and much more.

Emilio Nares Foundation

Emilio Nares Foundation (ENF) assists low-income families of children who are battling cancer. Their flagship program, Ride with Emilio, provides sick children with FREE transportation to chemotherapy and other important medical appointments. Without this service, many families were using public transportation, which could take up to 7 hours and also expose the immune-compromised children to an unsafe environment. 

ENF also provides the children with snack bags of healthy, hospital-approved sustenance after their treatments in the hospital. Their Family Resource Center connects the families to resources for financial aid, employment, housing, food, and other vital community services. 

How to Volunteer: 

To make an impact for the Emilio Nares Foundation, you can help fundraise, whether it’s through their Cheetah Charity Runner races,  their annual "Challenge Hike", or through DIY bake sales, charity golf tournaments, or anything else you can think of to raise funds.

Outdoor Outreach

Outdoor Outreach is a San Diego nonprofit whose mission is to connect under-resourced youth to the transformative power of the outdoors, helping them overcome risk factors like domestic violence, homelessness, immigration or refugee status, or involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Outdoor Outreache's programs provide opportunities for young people to surf, rock climb, paddle and more, engaging them in meaningful learning activities that promote a strong sense of self, belonging and resiliency. Additionally, the opportunity to build positive relationships with adults and peers introduces the youth to important protective factors like self-efficacy, social competencies and optimism for the future. Job training and employment provided through the Leadership Program add additional protective factors, equipping participants with transferable skills and competencies to overcome economic insecurity.

How to Volunteer: 

Outdoor Outreach does not require a minimum time commitment, but a volunteer orientation and background check is required. To learn more, visit the link below.

OG  Yoga

OG Yoga brings trauma-informed yoga, meditation and well-being to marginalized youth, adults and seniors facing homelessness, poverty, abuse, addiction, behavioral challenges, incarceration and reentry. OG Yoga's vision is to make yoga available through the systems serving those in need to transform lives, increase successful outcomes and build healthier communities.

How to Volunteer: 

You can help OG Yoga’s cause by hosting a fundraiser or attending one of OG Yoga's fundraising events. If you’re a yoga instructor and interested in how you can get involved, visit the link below. 


In their effort to escape war or persecution, refugees experience a life-or-death struggle to reach a UN Refugee Camp. There they wait for years for approval to go to a safe home in San Diego, where they face further challenges. These include learning a new language, adapting to a new culture, and finding a way to support themselves. RefugeeNet is San Diego nonprofit dedicated to assisting refugees in that process. RefugeeNet helps new arrivals register for food stamps, Social Security, school enrollment, medical registration, driver’s licenses, finding jobs, and more. RefugeeNet also provides tutoring for about 100 young people three days a week. 

How to Volunteer: 

Volunteer at RefugeeNet’s tutoring programs, where students learn individually and in small groups. Volunteers can also help collect and distribute clothing, household goods, and furniture.

San Diego Humane Society

With campuses in San Diego, Escondido and Oceanside, San Diego Humane Society takes care of almost 2,000 homeless animals daily, and provides services to enhance the human-animal bond in the community. They also have adoption centers inside select Petco stores throughout the county. 

How to Volunteer: 

Volunteers are needed for a variety of roles, from animal care to touring guests around the shelters. To learn more, visit the link below.

More Volunteer Opportunities in San Diego

In addition to the 12 San Diego nonprofits listed above, there are dozens more San Diego charities making a difference in the world. Find the one that speaks to you and get involved! You can view more volunteer opportunities at the links below, or by visiting VolunteerMatch.org.