Volunteering opportunities come in many shapes and sizes. Some volunteer a few hours regularly, others when called upon by an organisation. You could volunteer in your neighborhood, online or in other countries.
This guide will help you find out what is possible and how to begin volunteering.
Things you'll need
- A passion
- Time, sometimes very little time
What type of cause or organisation?
A good way to start is to list the sort of cause or organisation you would like to help. For example, working with children, older people, homeless people, disabled people, refugees. Perhaps you could help clean up the environment, or get involved in sports or arts and culture, or looking after animals.
List what skills you have to offer
Do you have IT skills, housekeeping, driving, teaching, creative, caring, fundraising, organising or perhaps you are good making friends. Probably the most important attributes are commitment, common sense and the ability to work in a team.
Work out how much time you can give
Be clear about how much time you want/are able to volunteer from the outset. Also be clear about other roles and responsibilities you have, so that from the outset expectations are set appropriately. Don't forget to think about the travel time involved.
Find the organisation for you
Identify organisations which operate in your area or for the cause you're interested in. Check out their websites and see what volunteer roles they are looking to fill. Big charities often have a way you can inquire and apply on line. Other organisations may like you to email or write to them.
Contact your local Volunteer Centre; they may have drop-in sessions or make appointments to talk over opportunities in the area.
Especially if you are thinking about a big commitment of time or energy, it is important to approach a volunteer role as carefully as a paid role from both parties’ point of view, so making contact or getting references from people who have or still volunteer for that organisation is always a good idea.
Do your research
Check out how well organised the organisation is in terms of running a volunteer programme, how well are the role and the time-commitment defined, who can you go to for support, who will you report to, are the health and safety policies and procedures in place, what expenses they meet, how are volunteers viewed in relation to paid staff, acknowledged, etc.
Watch for how they make contact with you and talk over the volunteering opportunities with you. Do you feel you are getting the chance to ask the questions you need and sort out the arrangements and procedures?
Larger organisations will have highly well-developed volunteering programmes; smaller organisations may tend to be more informal in their involvement of volunteers and have less resources for support of volunteer programmes.
Both can be rewarding and worthwhile but it is important to match your abilities and aspirations with the organisation’s; if these are mismatched, the volunteering role is unlikely to be a satisfactory experience for either party.
It can be beneficial to agree a short trial or shadowing period both to ensure a good match between the needs of both volunteer and the organisation but also to see how you enjoy working with the other people involved. Really enjoying both the work and the people you work with is of primary importance.
If things don't work out, be prepared
Most people’s volunteering experiences are positive. If things do go wrong, it’s important to work out a course of action. NCVO provide information on what to do if things don't work out.