Giving back to worthy causes not only makes you feel good, it also goes a long way to impressing potential employers. Take a look at some of the opportunities on offer
Volunteer work is undertaken for a variety of reasons. Some students and graduates want to make a positive contribution to society, while others want to gain the skills needed to pursue certain careers and bolster their CVs.
Volunteering in the UK
There are many organisations that encourage volunteering in the UK, so finding a cause and a project to support should be easy.
Charities and non-profit organisations such as Age UK, Barnardo's, British Red Cross, Cancer Research UK, the National Trust, The Prince's Trust, and many more are in constant need of volunteers. You can also work with schools, hospitals and local community centres. Volunteering is possible in most roles; however bear in mind that some organisations require experience, training or knowledge, so conduct thorough research before applying.
The amount of time you dedicate to volunteering will depend on your study, work or family commitments. Whether it's just a few hours a week, a couple of days a month or the entire summer break there is no limit to the amount of time you can spend volunteering. Be realistic and ensure that any voluntary work doesn't interfere with your university studies, part-time job or other extracurricular activities.
To find voluntary work in the UK, search:
- Volunteering Matters
- Volunteer Now (Northern Ireland)
- Volunteer Scotland
- Volunteering Wales
If you like the idea of venturing further afield there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer abroad. You could get involved in animal, childcare, conservation, community, education, medical or sports projects.
Overseas voluntary work can last from a couple of weeks to one year. It's common for students and graduates to make a voluntary position the purpose of a gap year, especially during or after their studies.
For international opportunities, search:
- Global Vision International (GVI)
- International Volunteer HQ
- Kaya Responsible Travel
- Pod Volunteer
- Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
- Volunteer Abroad
You could get involved in animal, community, environmental or marine conservation through a range of charities and non-profit organisations.
For community projects, get in touch with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), who work across the UK to create healthier and happier communities by conserving local green spaces.
For animal and environmental volunteering see organisations such as the Wildlife Trust and the Woodland Trust. With the Wildlife Trust you can care for nature reserves and get involved in habitat management and species surveying. With the Woodland Trust you can support wildlife, plant trees and campaign to protect vulnerable woods.
You could also help out at the Marine Conservation Society head offices, get involved with local coastal conservation groups, take up beach cleaning or become a 'sea champion' and help to promote their campaigns.
Other voluntary conservation opportunities exist with the National Trust, where you can help to conserve historic houses and gardens.
Volunteering with animals
If you're an animal lover keen to dedicate some of your time to the care and protection of a variety of creatures then volunteering with animals may be for you.
A range of organisations from wildlife trusts, conservation societies and animal sanctuaries exist and rely on the help of volunteers.
To find out more, see volunteering with animals.
For aspiring teachers taking up a voluntary position at a local school is a good way to gain experience. Voluntary school work can give you practical-based examples to use at interview, the opportunity to learn from experienced teachers and evidence of your commitment. You could:
- Contact schools, nurseries and colleges directly and ask if you can visit, shadow or observe the teachers.
- Ask charities or local authorities in your area if they run schemes for voluntary mentors to work with pupils, often on a one-to-one basis.
- Speak to your university as they may run student tutoring programmes where you tutor other students or go into schools to help with classes.
To find out more, see volunteering in schools.
If you're aiming towards a career in social work relevant experience is vital. You can gain this through a range of voluntary opportunities.
If you have a couple of hours to spare each week you could become a befriender. This involves supporting isolated individuals, usually the elderly or disabled. As a befriender you'll spend a couple of hours each week with your befriendee in their own home. Services are available with charities such as Age UK and Deaf Blind UK.
Alternatively you can help to combat poverty with The Trussell Trust. Through the charity you can locate local food banks and donate your time as a warehouse volunteer (sorting, weighing and storing donated food), food bank centre volunteer (meeting service users and giving out parcels), or as a supermarket collections volunteer (helping at collection points and encouraging people to donate).
Volunteer social care jobs are also available with charities such as:
Arts and culture groups
National and regional arts festivals are a great place to make industry contacts. The Edinburgh Art Festival, Oxford Festival of the Arts, International Youth Arts Festival Kingston and the Manchester International Festival are just some of the events that recruit volunteers every year. Art festivals tend to take place over a couple of weeks during the summer months so do some research into what's available in your community.
Volunteering in museums is also a popular option for those seeking arts and culture experience. Both regional and national museums rely on the help of volunteers and most organisations; there are 2,500 in the UK, welcome volunteers. Large organisations such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, all in London, recruit volunteers year round. The National Railway Museum in York and the National Media Museum in Bradford also have plenty of volunteering opportunities. Long and short-term projects are available and you can help front-of-house or behind the scenes.
Work experience is essential in the competitive field of sport coaching and volunteering positions often lead to more permanent employment.
Through Join In, an official London Games legacy charity, you can search for local clubs in need of volunteers and give your time on an ad-hoc or more permanent basis. You can volunteer as coaches, club accountants and event organisers.
You can also volunteer at local sports clubs through Sport England.
This type of volunteering involves being prepared to help out in emergency situations such as natural disasters, fires, floods, individual medical emergencies and transport accidents.
As an emergency response volunteer you'll support the emergency services, provide first aid and transport assistance, offer practical and emotional help to people in crisis and help to organise evacuations.
To get involved visit:
United Nations Volunteers programme
The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. You can volunteer in your own country, abroad or online.
Becoming a volunteer is a unique opportunity to enrich personal and professional experience, and it benefits both the volunteer and society at large. UNV sends professionals with specialised experience to serve in assignments with a variety of UN agencies to support peace and development. There are a number of requirements that volunteers must meet, to find out more see UN Volunteers.
Medical students looking for work experience should consider donating their time and knowledge to volunteering projects. There are a variety of opportunities that you can get involved in, both in the UK and abroad.
For volunteer jobs in the UK get in touch with the St John Ambulance Service. You can volunteer as a first aider, doctor, nurse, or paramedic. You can also become a first aider for the British Red Cross.
Festival Medical Services is a non-profit organisation that delivers high-quality medical services to Europe's largest festivals and gatherings. You can volunteer in a number of capacities, either as part of a clinical team of doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, paramedics, dentists etc. or within an admin and support role.
For international medical volunteer assignments see:
How to apply
Some volunteering schemes are formally advertised and have set procedures that you need to follow. This may include completing an application form or submitting your CV and cover letter,followed by an interview. To ensure your interview is a success, take a look at our interview tips.
If you have a particular organisation and volunteer role in mind you could send a speculative application to enquire about opportunities. You'll need to explain why you want to volunteer with them, state any previous experience you have and outline what you could offer their organisation. Make sure you find a contact name and address your letter or email directly to them. Find out how to write a speculative job application.
If you plan to work with children or elderly people, then you should also expect to go through security checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service.
How volunteering can help your career
In addition to giving back to others and allowing you to meet new people, volunteering also gives you the opportunity to:
- boost your CV with real work/life experience
- gain valuable transferable skills such as communication, team work, time management, organisation and decision making
- build confidence
- give real life examples at interview
- explore different areas of work
- expand your network of contacts.
As a volunteer you may get the chance to attend training courses as part of your programme. These could be project specific or more general, for example a first aid course. This additional training may prove useful when applying for jobs and could help you to stand out from the crowd. What's more if you impress as a volunteer you may be able to name your supervisor as a reference on future job applications.