As well as looking impressive on your CV, volunteering is a great way to gain work experience, build contacts and give something back to individuals or communities. Whether at home or abroad, learn more about available voluntary opportunities

Making a positive contribution to society while gaining the skills needed to pursue certain careers is a sure-fire way to impress potential employers. Voluntary work demonstrates your commitment to a sector, your proactive 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, but not all - some organisations may require experience and knowledge, while others may be unable to offer opportunities due to the sensitive or confidential nature of their work. 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's no limit - but be realistic and ensure that it doesn't interfere with other areas of your life.

To find voluntary opportunities 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 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:

Check that you're able to travel safely to your chosen destination before committing to a project. For all the latest information and updates, see GOV.UK - Foreign travel advice.

Learn more about working abroad.

Online volunteering

Also known as virtual or remote volunteering, this type of opportunity is increasingly popular as it enables participants to complete a period of volunteering from home. Often all you need is a computer and a stable internet connection. Online volunteering is ideal for those unable to travel but who still want to give their time to a worthy cause. 

Virtual volunteering is possible in a range of roles, but duties differ depending on the project.

Find online volunteering opportunities at:

Conservation volunteering

For community projects, get in touch with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), an organisation that works 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 Trusts and the Woodland Trust. With The Wildlife Trusts 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. 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 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.

To find out more, see volunteering in schools and 10 opportunities to volunteer with children.

Social care

If you'd like a career in social care, relevant experience is vital.

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 opportunities 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, FUSE International Kingston and the Manchester International Festival are just some of the events that recruit volunteers. You can help with the preparations, work front-of-house or fulfil steward roles. Art festivals usually take place over 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 welcome volunteers. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum (all in London) recruit volunteers all year round. 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 the Sport and Recreation Alliance you can search for local clubs in need of volunteers and give your time on an ad-hoc or permanent basis. You can also volunteer at local sports clubs through Sport England.

Emergency volunteering

This 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.

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
  • demonstrate your initiative and proactive nature to employers
  • 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 it 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

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