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50+ Inspiring Quotes About Volunteering & Service

A good quote can serve as a handy reminder for why you’ve set out on a course in life. The ideas contained within it can also serve as a gentle nudge to reconsider and reframe how you see the world. There are many reasons to serve others, whether you are traveling or volunteering in your local community. No matter the way you choose to volunteer, the profound and underlying truth under all of it is that through service we can also learn about ourselves, our privilege, and the truths we might have long-held as self-evident. I’ve been on the road for a decade, collecting the best unconventional travel quotes, in addition to quotes that help frame how we can live a life of service.

The following are my favorite volunteering quotes—some are about the industry of it, others the intention behind it. The quotes provide poetic glimpses into why we serve others, the imperative within us compelling a sense of compassion and community. I pulled them from books, movies, songs, famous people, and those I’ve met along my years traveling through developing communities all over the world. Many of these quotes are mere snippets of larger ideas, but all point to the underlying reasons many of us look for ways to serve others through volunteering.

~ Shannon, Founder of GV


volunteering quote

“Privilege blinds, because it’s in its nature to blind. Don’t let it blind you too often. Sometimes you will need to push it aside in order to see clearly.” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


“Interdependence is a fundamental law of nature. Even tiny insects survive by cooperating with each other. Our own survival is so dependent on the help of others that a need for love lies at the very core of our existence. This is why we need to cultivate a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.”   — Dalai Lama


A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.   — John Stuart Mill


“Compassion is not weakness and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.”   — Hubert Humphrey


“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.”   — Robert Fulghum


If only I could so live and so serve the world that after me there should never again be birds in cages.   — Karen Blixen


“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”   — Albert Schweitzer


“If only I could so live and so serve the world that after me there should never again be birds in cages.”   — Karen Blixen (pen name, Isak Dinesen)


“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”   — Anthony Bourdain


“Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do.”   — Voltaire


If the only thing you get is the negative stories, you become inured and people seem less human—they are either emaciated victims or violent and evil.”   — Dr. David Keen


The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.”   — Viktor Frankl


You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.   — Marie Curie


“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”   — Albert Schweitzer


“Activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet.”   — Alice Walker


Man is always inclined to be intolerant towards the thing, or person, he hasn’t taken the time adequately to understand.”   — Robert R. Brown


quote about volunteering

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead


Learn to detach … Don’t cling to things, because everything is impermanent … But detachment doesn’t mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate fully.”   — Mitch Albom


“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” — Alan Alda


“The question is whether or not you choose to disturb the world around you, or if you choose to let it go on as if you had never arrived.”   — Ann Patchett


“Too many have dispensed with generosity in order to practice charity.”   — Albert Camus


I should dearly love that the world should be ever so little better for my presence. Even on this small stage we have our two sides, and something might be done by throwing all one’s weight on the scale of breadth, tolerance, charity, temperance, peace, and kindliness to man and beast. We can’t all strike very big blows, and even the little ones count for something.” — Arthur Conan Doyle


If I can do no more, let my name stand among those who are willing to bear ridicule and reproach for the truth’s sake, and so earn some right to rejoice when the victory is won.”   — Louisa May Alcott


The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”   — Anatole France


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”   — Martin Luther King, Jr


If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” — E.B. White

being a volunteer traveler

The ultimate sense of security will be when we come to recognize that we are all part of one human race. Our primary allegiance is to the human race and not to one particular color or border.”   — Mohamed ElBaradei


“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”   — Maya Angelou


If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.”   — Carl Sagan


“We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.” — Pema Chodron


“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”  — Lilla Watson, an Indigenous Australian artist


I see too plainly custom forms us all. Our thoughts, our morals, our most fixed belief, are consequences of our place of birth.”   — Aaron Hill


“The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”   — William Jones


travel quote

The Master has no possessions. The more he does for others, the happier he is. The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is.”   — Lao Tzu


“It’s like, at the end, there’s this surprise quiz: Am I proud of me? I gave my life to become the person I am right now. Was it worth what I paid?”   — Richard Bach


Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.”   — Viktor Frankl


“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”   — Desmond Tutu


If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other islands, but a continent that joins to them.”   — Francis Bacon


“Every place is a goldmine. You have only to give yourself time, sit in a teahouse watching the passers-by, stand in a corner of the market, go for a haircut. You pick up a thread – a word, a meeting, a friend of a friend of someone you have just met – and soon the most insipid, most insignificant place becomes a mirror of the world, a window on life, a theatre of humanity.”
— Tiziano Terzani


There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher.   — Henry van Dyke


“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”   — Anais Nin


“We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill


“Traveling makes one modest — you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” — Gustave Flaubert


“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.”   — Martin Luther King, Jr


Living a life serving others

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.”    — Helen Keller


The world is changed not by the self-regarding, but by men and women prepared to make fools of themselves.”  — P.D. James


“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”   — Elie Wiesel


“You don’t choose the day you enter the world and you don’t chose the day you leave. It’s what you do in between that makes all the difference.”   — Anita Septimus


“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.”   — Edmund Hillary


Each person’s task in life is to become an increasingly better person.”   — Leon Tolstoy


We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable.”  — Alexander Solzhenitsyn


“Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.”   — Milan Kundera


There is little to be said in favour of poverty, but it was often an incubator of true friendship. Many people will appear to befriend you when you are wealthy, but precious few will do the same when you are poor. If wealth is a magnet, poverty is a kind of repellent. Yet poverty often brings out the true generosity in others.”   — Nelson Mandela


“Our conscience is not the vessel of eternal verities. It grows with our social life, and a new social condition means a radical change in conscience.”   — Walter Lippmann


I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
— Edward Everett Hale


“May I see what I do. May I do it differently. May I make this a way of life.”   — Buddhist mantra


“I have walked through many lives, some of them my own, and I am not who I was.”  — Stanley Kunitz


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”   — Article 1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The power of travel.

The Supreme Ethical Rule: Act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in thyself.” — Felix Adler


“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” — Anne Frank


“The moral test of a society is how that society treats those who are in the dawn of life—the children; those who are in the twilight of life—the elderly; and those who are in the shadow of life-the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” — Hubert Humphrey


It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson


Never before has man had such a great capacity to control his own environment, to end hunger, poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy and human misery. We have the power to make the best generation of mankind in the history of the world.” — President John F. Kennedy


Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” — Buddha


“The true voyage of discovery is not a journey to a new place; it is learning to see with new eyes.”  — Proust


There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.” — Hannah Senesh


Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” — Haile Selassie


The idealists and visionaries, foolish enough to throw caution to the winds and express their ardor and faith in some supreme deed, have advanced mankind and have enriched the world.” — Emma Goldman