Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Volunteering

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Volunteering

Tom Green, the editor of Do-it, a UK-based internet database of volunteer opportunities, offers helpful volunteering advice.
Photo Credit: Flickr
Volunteering opportunities exist from helping kids to web design to nature conservation and beyond. Photo Credit: Flickr

This article was contributed by Tom Green and reprinted with permission from The Ethical Careers Guide.

What sort of volunteering opportunities are out there?

Volunteering is everywhere. From sports coaching to campaigning, web design to tree planting, volunteers play a massive role in just about every section of society. Whatever your background, whatever your level of skills and experience, and however much (or little) time you have available, there will be something that you can do.

How can I find my ideal voluntary placement?

Whatever your background, whatever your level of skills and experience, there will be something that you can do.

Start by thinking about what you want and what you have to offer. Are you looking to learn new skills or build on those you have already — perhaps with a view to enhancing your job prospects? Or are you more interested in helping out a particular cause, or simply in having an enjoyable, sociable experience? Similarly, do have you existing skills and attributes that could be useful to an organisation? And how much time do you have available? Be realistic.

Once you've got a clear idea of what you're looking for, the internet is a good place to start looking for opportunities (the do-it database has over 50,000), or get in touch with your local Volunteer Bureau, where you can also get specialist advice about volunteering. If there's an organisation that particularly interests you, but which doesn't advertise for volunteers, it can be worth dropping them a line asking if they need any help and saying what you can offer (even if it's just enthusiasm). Not all organisations will take people up, but it's certainly worth a go. To get it right you might find yourself doing quite a lot of research, but it will be worth it in the end.

Do I need any particular skills or qualifications to be a volunteer?

It depends what you want to do. Everyone can volunteer, but some roles require certain skills and attributes. Don't be afraid to make an enquiry, though the organisation will make it clear if there are any special requirements. It's also worth pointing out any particular skills and qualifications that you have — you never know, they might be just what they are looking for!

How much time do I need to give to be a volunteer?

Different roles will require different amounts of time — from several days per week, to the odd hour every month. Be clear how much time you have available, and make sure you tell the organisation.

What are the benefits of volunteering?

Where to start?! You're helping other people, obviously. But you will also get a huge amount back. New skills and experiences. New friends. And a new insight into an organisation and the world in which they work. For many people, volunteering is the most satisfying work that they do.

For many people, volunteering is the most satisfying work that they do.

Be clear about what you want to get the most benefit from your placement. Don't expect an organisation to guess what you're looking for, you have to be up-front about it. If they can't provide what you want, then find another organisation that can.

I'd like to volunteer, but I don't think I can afford it. What's your advice?

You should be paid any out-of-pocket expenses (travel, meals etc). If you only have a small amount of time outside of work, see what you can manage that fits in with your lifestyle.

If you're thinking about volunteering as a way of gaining work experience whilst looking for a job, it is still possible to claim unemployment benefit. You should tell the Jobcentre that you are volunteering and how this will enable you to gain valuable skills and experience. You must be both available for work and actively seeking work to claim Jobseeker's Allowance. This means being able to go to job interviews, being able to start work at one week's notice and taking ‘reasonable steps' to find a job. For more information on claiming benefits and volunteering, contact your local Volunteer Bureau or the National Centre for Volunteering.

What are your ‘top tips' for potential volunteers?
  • Be clear what you want and what you have to offer.
  • Be prepared to do some research.
  • If you're nervous about taking something on, ask if you can have a trial period of a few weeks to see if it works out.
  • Don't be constrained by stereotypes of volunteering — volunteers are everywhere, doing all sorts of things.

Reprinted with permission from The Ethical Careers Guide.

To read another Global Envision article about Volunteering put in motion, see Building the Village Education Project.

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