A period of volunteering looks great on your CV but when choosing a project be sure to pick something that you're passionate about. Take a look at some of the volunteer opportunities on offer

Some students and graduates want to make a positive contribution to society, while others want to gain the skills needed to pursue certain careers. One things for sure, giving your time to a worthy cause goes a long way to impressing potential employers. Volunteering demonstrates your commitment to a sector, your proactive and independent nature and your ability to communicate effectively and work as part of a team.

Volunteering in the UK

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 in schools, hospitals and local community centres. Volunteering is possible in most roles, however, some organisations require experience and knowledge, so conduct thorough research before applying.

The amount of time you dedicate to voluntary work depends on your study, work or family commitments. Whether it's a couple of hours a week, a few days a month or the entire summer break there is no limit. Be realistic and ensure that voluntary work doesn't interfere with your university studies, part-time job or other extracurricular activities.

To find voluntary work in the UK, search:

Volunteer abroad

If you'd like to venture 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 a 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:

Conservation volunteering

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. The Woodland Trust provides opportunities to 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.

If you would like to get in involved in conservation volunteering in exotic locations then Pod Volunteer has a range of projects.

Volunteering with animals

A variety of organisations from wildlife trusts, conservation societies and animal sanctuaries exist and rely on the help of volunteers. You could volunteer in the UK or further afield on conservation and rescue projects. This kind of experience is particularly relevant to aspiring animal nutritionists, technicians, vets and zookeepers.

To find out more, see volunteering with animals.

School experience

For aspiring teachers volunteering at a local school is a good way to gain experience. Voluntary work in schools gives 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 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.

Social care

If you'd like a career in social care, relevant experience is vital and this is where voluntary opportunities come in useful.

If you can spare a couple of hours a week you could become a befriender. This involves supporting isolated individuals, usually the elderly or disabled. Services are available with charities such as Age UK and Deaf Blind UK.

Alternatively, 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, food bank centre volunteer, or as a supermarket collections volunteer.

Volunteer social care positions are also available with:

Mental health volunteering

Suited to compassionate people with good listening and communication skills, mental health volunteering can provide great experience for those looking to break into health or social care roles.

Both national and local mental health charities are always in need of volunteers. Positions can be found at:

Working with both children and adults you could man helplines, volunteer as an online counsellor, assist with local gardening or craft groups, provide a listening ear during drop-in talking sessions or become a peer mentor. You could also work in a charity shop or fundraise for mental health charities.

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. You can help with the preparations, work front-of-house greeting and informing the public or fulfil steward roles. Art festivals 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. Both regional and national museums - all 2,500 of them in the UK - welcome volunteers. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), 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.

Sports coaching

Work experience is essential in the competitive field of sport 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 permanent basis. You can volunteer as a coach, club accountant or event organiser.

You can also volunteer at local sports clubs through Sport England.

Emergency volunteering

This type of volunteering involves helping 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 support to people in crisis and help to organise evacuations.

To get involved visit:

United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme

UNV sends professionals with specialised experience to serve in assignments with a variety of UN agencies to support peace and development. You can volunteer in your own country, abroad or online. There are a number of requirements that volunteers must meet, for example, to volunteer abroad you’ll need to be 25 years old with a university degree and a minimum of two years’ work experience. To volunteer in your home country you’ll need to be 22 years of age. To find out more, see UN Volunteers.

Medical volunteering

For volunteer positions in the UK get in touch with St John Ambulance. 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 as part of a clinical team of doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, paramedics and dentists, or within an admin and support role.

For international volunteer assignments see Gap medics.

How to apply

Many voluntary opportunities are 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.

If you have a particular organisation and volunteer role in mind you could send a speculative application. You'll need to explain why you want to volunteer with them, state any previous experience 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, 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 volunteering also gives you the opportunity to:

  • boost your CV with real work/life experience
  • gain valuable transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, time management, organisation and decision making
  • build confidence
  • explore different areas of work
  • expand your network of contacts.

As a volunteer you may get the chance to attend training courses. 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.

Find out more