Volunteering opportunities are endless and giving up some of your own time to give something back to the community is a sure-fire way to stand out to employers
Volunteering can be a multi-purpose endeavour. Some students and graduates say that they volunteer to make a positive contribution to society in some way. For other people, volunteering is an important way of gaining the skills needed to pursue certain careers and to bolster their CVs.
Think about what you want to do and why you want to do it before applying for the numerous positions available. Do you like the environment? Do you like working with children or the elderly? Do you want to meet new people or try something new?
Where can I volunteer?
Often carried out with charities and non-profit organisations, the work can also involve volunteering for schools, hospitals and community centres. Opportunities to volunteer are possible in most occupations. Bear in mind that some organisations will require experience, training or knowledge so conduct thorough research before applying.
To find voluntary work in the UK, search:
- Do-it - UK-wide, although most opportunities are from volunteer centres in England
- Tutorfair Foundation
- Vinspired - opportunities in England for 16 to 25 year olds
- Volunteering Matters
- Volunteer Now - volunteering programmes in Northern Ireland
- Volunteer Scotland
- Volunteering Wales
For international opportunities, search:
- Global Vision International (GVI)
- International Volunteer HQ
- Kaya Responsible Travel
- Pod Volunteer
- Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
- Volunteer Abroad
For a guide to choosing a worthwhile international programme, see Ethical Volunteering.
Research into which organisations or charities offer internships is also worth considering as these are now very much like voluntary programmes.
Will I have time to volunteer?
Volunteering is usually carried out on a flexible basis in the local community in order to fit in around study and other commitments.
Overseas voluntary work can sometimes take weeks or months of continuous work to complete. It is very common for students and graduates to make a voluntary position the purpose of a gap year spent abroad, especially during or after study.
How do I apply?
However, in the case of internships the competition can be fierce. Larger and higher profile charities may receive more voluntary support, so you should be prepared to be flexible in terms of which organisations you volunteer with. 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 will volunteering help my career?
Voluntary work not only increases your personal development, for example your organisational skills and confidence, it also gives you the chance to contribute to something you care about. Voluntary work can stimulate ideas for more permanent positions, allow you to meet deadlines, work in a team and generally give you experience of working life.
It's a good idea to reflect on and record your voluntary work with care and detail in order to be able to draw upon what you've learned at a later date and provide examples in interviews.
While often you will not receive any pay as a volunteer, in some cases you will have your expenses paid for such as travel and lunch. If you receive any benefits or payments from the state, you will need to seek advice about whether the position will effect these payments. As a volunteer, you may be asked to attend training courses and your point of contact - for example, your supervisor - may be able to act as a reference for future job applications.
As rewarding as volunteering can be, it does have its controversy. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) state that all volunteering work should complement the work of paid staff. Volunteering should not be used to replace or undermine staff pay and conditions. If you have any doubts or uncertainties about your rights and responsibilities as a volunteer, you should seek advice from your university careers service.