Progress is the essential motivation and takeaway of most nonprofits. It’s the realization that no one can do it alone — this thing called life. Everyone struggles — some struggles are more urgent, as basic human needs and rights continue to go unmet in many places in the world.

That’s where nonprofits step in to help. While you can choose to volunteer at your local animal shelter or soup kitchen on the reg, you can also try looking into ways to volunteer abroad. The cultural experience of going elsewhere besides home to help others is something that seems to have become fairly prevalent recently, especially amongst the millennial generation. This is great, and hopefully is a trend that continues.

If you’re not sure where to start, you can search locally. Or maybe you want to get away from home… but perhaps not too far from home. You’re in luck — check out this starter list of some popular and well-organized nonprofits in the Americas that are killin’ it in the realm of charitable giving.

North America

Rikki’s Refuge — Orange, VA

It’s rare to find a sanctuary that is no-kill, accepts all species and offers homeless or sick animals a permanent stay if they can’t find a new home. That’s exactly what independent sanctuary Rikki’s Refuge in Orange, VA does across 450 acres that include beaver ponds and streams, some of which are protected lands for native state flora and fauna.


Every year, 1,300 special-needs animals of varying species benefit from the services of Rikki’s Refuge, without discrimination toward adoptability, breed, health condition or age. Currently, they have roughly 300 animals and more than 22 species, which include dogs, cats, goats, sheep, pigs, emus, rabbits, chickens, ducks, peacocks, geese and even a chukar partridge. Rikki’s Refuge is operated and owned by nonprofit Life Unlimited of Virginia, and also offers spay and neuter and humane education.

The Oral Cancer Foundation — Newport Beach, CA

Based in Newport Beach, CA, the Oral Cancer Foundation (OCF) serves as a 501(c)3 charity nonprofit that provides vital information about the disease to dental and medical professionals and the public, while supporting and advocating for patients. The OCF is known for being the biggest patient-to-survivor, real-time interactive support service on the web for oral cancer. Their site hosts thousands of pages with a wealth of information that garners more than 24 million hits a month.

The OCF sponsors research of detection mechanisms to help catch the disease at earlier stages to boost survival rates. The organization also sponsors research for immunotherapy treatments for oropharyngeal and oral cancer and the link between the HPV virus and oropharyngeal cancers. The OCF has earned recognition as the best small cancer nonprofit in America, and won the Cancer Fighters Award from Great Nonprofits in 2009.

Smile Train — New York, NY

As an international charity based in New York, NY, Smile Train offers a sustainable model for a solvable issue: cleft lips and palate. For affected children in developing countries, cleft repair surgery is the simple answer with an instant effect on a child’s breathing, eating and sleeping.

Smile Train provides training and funding for local doctors in more than 85 countries to offer completely free cleft repair surgeries in their communities. Their contribution can be as small as $250 for one surgery, but investments in new operating rooms and surgical and safety equipment are also vital. With about 350 daily surgeries and more than 128,000 surgeries a year, Smile Train makes a difference “one smile at a time.”

Central America

The Huichol Center — Sayulita, Mexico

In Sayulita, Mexico, anthropologist and jewelry artisan Susana Valadez organized the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts to support indigenous Huichol women and families. The Huichol people number around 15,000, and their native occupation of the area goes back to the pre-Columbian era.

Many people were abandoning the remote mountain area to find jobs elsewhere, and the cultural traditions were dying. Valadez’s project helped empower locals to be self-sufficient by turning native traditions into high art. Their intricate beadwork and yarn paintings are complex and laborious, equivalent to museum quality. Donations and purchases aid hunger relief, medical assistance and educational enrichment and help religious practitioners and tribal leaders, while maintaining a rich culture and vibrant village.

Honduras Hope — Honduras

Honduras Hope is a community development initiative that empowers politically and economically marginalized people residing in rural Honduras, with goals of self-sufficiency and resilience. Volunteers and locals work together to better education, poverty, housing and economic and cultural development.

For example, though primary education is present across the country, the quality must be improved, and some students may walk anywhere from one to three hours to and from school. One project, such as the Justin Briggs Memorial Scholarship Fund, helps Honduran students access secondary and postsecondary educational opportunities.

South America

ABWE Chile Wildfire Relief Southern Chile

Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) International partners with other nonprofit organizations and charities to widen their reach and impact lives for the better, and one project partners ABWE with a Chilean mission agency to provide wildfire relief for the people.

Wildfires are consuming Chile, and more than 100 unrelated wildfires have destroyed 900,000 acres of land and thousands of houses. At least 11 people have died, and many more have lost their livestock and their livelihood. The goal is to gather supplies and be missionaries to people suffering from the devastation of wildfire in southern Chile.

Konex Foundation (Fundación Konex) — Argentina

The Konex Foundation (Fundación Konex) of Argentina is a cultural nonprofit founded in 1980 with the goal to stimulate, help, promote and participate in all forms of educational, cultural, social, philanthropic and scientific or sports initiatives.

The nonprofit honors talented and brilliant individuals in their respective fields for their cultural contributions, and the awards are recognized worldwide. Konex Foundation also hosts a music festival and programs to promote and develop youth cultural expression in such fields as opera, classical music and ballet.

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About Author

Kate Harveston covers social justice and human rights issues. She graduated with a Bachelors in English and minored in Criminal Justice, so she enjoys writing about anything related to the intersections of law, politics and culture. For more of her writing, you can visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

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