Three young volunteers smiling, portrait

The Points of Light Institute is one of the largest nonprofit networking organizations in the U.S.

Geoff Manasse/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

If you want to be a catalyst for civic change, or if you're just looking for a useful way to fill up your free time, nonprofit organizations are an excellent place to get started. It is the goal of numerous nonprofits to mobilize volunteers in a fight against poverty, and there are many ways you can help.

You should begin your quest by checking out one of the largest nonprofit networking organizations in the United States, the Points of Light Institute (PLI). Points of Light, a national service organization, unites thousands of volunteers and hundreds of programs to provide support for nonprofit groups and service opportunities for volunteers. As a nonprofit organization, any money earned by PLI's programs is used to fund those same programs and other service initiatives.

 PLI has volunteers working hands-on to improve family living, schools and other community-based organizations. And with a couple hundred plus service locations and opportunities in all 50 states (and more than half a dozen countries) the odds are good that you can find something that suits your interests and skills. But if you can't find the opportunity that is right for you, don't worry: PLI can also provide you with the necessary resources for starting your own service initiative [sources: AmeriCorps Alums, Points of Light].

In these next few pages, you'll learn how the Points of Light Institute first began, what its programs do to serve the community and how you can become one of its volunteers.

A few years ago two organizations merged to form the Points of Light Institute. To find out how this mega-sized volunteer network got its start, check out the next page.