Volunteering can be a wonderful experience, both because it allows you to give something back to the community, and also because it can help increase your employability. Employers hold voluntary work in high regard because it allows candidates to gain valuable work experience and skills that will help them excel in the workplace.
Finding volunteer work is a must for anyone who’s interested in giving their career a boost. The process to find voluntary work is straightforward and as long as you follow the steps detailed below, you’ll have no trouble finding an opportunity that’s suited to you.
Step 1: Acknowledge Your Skills
Recognising your skills is essential as it will help you make smarter decisions regarding volunteer opportunities, and also to convince organisation personnel that they need you.
Start by making a list of the skills you love and hate. For example, if you hate organisational tasks make sure you write it down on your list because it will help remind you what to avoid. This is an important step because it will help you stay committed.
If you intend to use volunteering as work experience, you might want to consider what skills are required in your chosen profession and try to get an opportunity that will allow you to improve them.
If you are looking to change careers, or increasing your employability is not an issue for you, you might want to avoid the competency trap. For example, if you are a solicitor, although any organisation would benefit from your services, it might be a bad idea to find volunteer opportunities in this area as it might make you feel like you have two jobs which could be detrimental to your mental health.
Do bear in mind that all opportunities will require commitment, determination and hard work.
Step 2: Pick a Cause You’re Passionate About
After making a list of your skills and competencies, it’s important to take a look at your interests and passions. Finding a cause that you’ll be genuinely interested in will increase the beneficial effects of voluntary work on your body and mind, and also keep you committed for longer.
Volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about can also benefit your career - especially if the two align. Not only will you be able to include your volunteer experience on your CV, but you’ll also be able to improve your practical knowledge.
If you are not sure what opportunity to choose, you can start by thinking about your motives and end-goal. Ask yourself what you want to achieve because this will allow you to understand what truly motivates you.
Step 3: Decide Where You’d Like to Volunteer
To find volunteer work you need to decide whether you’d like to do it locally, from home, or use one of the major organisations in the UK.
Volunteering locally is a great idea if you are interested in the problems that your village, town or city is facing. What’s more, finding work close to your home can help you remain committed, an aspect with which many people find trouble with.
If you want to volunteer locally, you should consider going to the organisation and meeting with the person in charge to find out more about their needs. This will also help you understand if you’d feel comfortable there.You should still apply with a letter as this is more professional, but make sure to get all your questions answered before you apply. Look for local shelters, schools and other organisations - you might also find opportunities on the website of your local council.
Volunteering from Home
If you’d like to help, but would prefer the comfort of your own home, you’ll be happy to know that this option is now becoming increasingly popular, especially, when the work is highly skilled and can be done over the internet.
Many organisations need volunteers to help them with their websites, social media or even contacting sponsors, etc. So if you feel more comfortable offering your services from home you might be able to.
Find Volunteer Opportunities Through Organisations
There are many organisations that help volunteers find opportunities. These are some of the biggest in the country:
- Vinspired: The leading volunteering organisation for the 14-25 age group. They have helped create over one million opportunities across the UK.
- Do-It: Enables over 200,000 people to offer their services on a monthly basis. It’s one of the most prestigious organisations in the country.
- Volunteering Matters: Attracting over 30,000 people and 90,000 volunteers per annum, Volunteering Matters is a huge platform to find opportunities.
Step 4: Understand What You Can Expect
It’s necessary to understand your rights as a volunteer because you don’t want to be exploited. Needless to say that if you are working for a credible and accredited organisation, you needn’t worry about being exploited, but if you’re working with an organisation that’s new or that you haven’t heard anything about make sure to take care.
Most organisations will provide you with a volunteer agreement that will detail your duties and rights. This isn’t compulsory and as you won’t be getting paid, you won’t have a contract. However, this agreement should detail what kind of training and support you’ll be provided with, how you’ll be protected in terms of health and safety issues and any organisations that the organisation will be willing to cover (most organisations will reimburse your commuting and out of pocket expenses).
Writing a letter asking to volunteer is not that different to writing a cover letter when applying for a job. You need to address it to the person in charge because you want them to know that you’ve done your research.
Bear in mind that you’ll also need to convince them that you are a highly skilled candidate, so showcase examples of your work and describe the value that you’ll contribute to the organisation.
Remember that if you have questions about the placement, you should wait until after they’ve confirmed their interest in you. Questions such as what the working hours are like, how long you’ll be needed for, whether your expenses will be paid for and what support and training you’ll be provided with are valid, but they’ll be of no consequence if you don’t manage to create a positive impression.
Amongst the many benefits of volunteering is that it can help boost your career and as such it should be seen a serious career development opportunity. Finding volunteer work can be a simple process if you start by identifying your interests and skills. Who knows you might enjoy it so much that you want to make a career out of it and become a volunteer coordinator.
Have you ever volunteered? Let us know what your experience with voluntary work was like.
This article was originally published in August 2014.