Volunteering is something a large number of people do. It can involve a few hours every week at the local cat shelter, be an intensive month spent in a foreign orphanage or a one off fundraiser to aid the local old people's home. Really, volunteering is simply offering some of your time to help others. No matter what your interests and no matter how much time you have to spare, there will be some form of volunteering you can do!
This is a question that is often asked, but the answer is often personal to you. No reasons are 'invalid', although some may be more altruistic and respectable than others! Common reasons include:
- Volunteering delivers love.
- Volunteering gives you an opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives in your community.
- Volunteering enhances your CV and proves to your future employer that you have developed necessary skills and are a committed person. This is especially useful for application forms and job interviews, where it might make you stand out.
- Volunteering is a fun, exciting and fulfilling
- Volunteering gives you a chance to get experience in a field you’d like to work in. It can influence your career choices.
- Many of the volunteer projects will include training, which will be useful both on the project and in later life.
- Volunteering gives you the chance to meet people both you would not normally come across. You experience diversity and integrate with the community whilst making friends with like-minded people.
- Volunteering builds confidence and self-esteem
- Gain a different outlook to life and broaden your perspectives
- Have some time spare and want to do something useful in it
- Was inspired by someone else
- Have a personal link to it, e.g. volunteering for Cancer Research as someone near you had suffered from cancer
- Want to gain new skills, e.g. communication, organisation
- Want to share your skills, knowledge and expertise for others' benefits
- Need to volunteer to fulfill a service requirement for an award/school projects
If you have some time to do it, start volunteering today!
Voluntary work in the UK
There are many ways you can volunteer. Many join a group or society that aids a specific cause ranging from a local attraction to helping the more needy in the community. This can occur directly by you joining them or through a school voluntary programme based around Wednesday afternoons. It only has to take up as little as an hour and can count towards a certificate.
Although your volunteering does not have to directly relate to whatever you may be studying, it is always useful to do something that is relevant to what you want to do in the future.
Useful Organisations in the UK
The following websites are an example of volunteer organisations which are more than happy for your time:
Residential programmes are schemes where you go away for a week or more to volunteer full-time. Compared with long-term volunteering for a few hours regularly, this type of volunteering can be very demanding as you would be required to work for long hours - but can also be very rewarding, as you can get to know the people you are working with very well and can see the obvious difference you are making. Most schemes provide free accommodation and food for volunteers; some may reimburse your travel expenses as well. Because the work can be quite specialised, it is likely that you have to do a CRB check and attend several training sessions beforehand.
Some examples include
Will my expenses be covered?
Usually yes, if you are volunteering through a company or to a well established organisation. Many reimburse your travelling expenses, as well as the cost of meals while volunteering. However, you must check before you start whether this is the case with your organisation.
Do I need a CRB check?
This depends on the nature of your voluntary work. If it is work that involves contact with vulnerable people, such as the elderly, the disabled or the very young it is likely; in this case, the organisation usually pays for the CRB check. They are also usually not transferable between different organisations; many would ask for a new check before you start.
How much time should I give?
This is up to you. Many organisations are usually in need of extra hands, so whatever time you can give them would be valuable even if it is only once a month. However, some volunteering placements may be fixed (such as a week's summer camp), or they may request you to make a commitment of a certain length of time (e.g. 3 hours a week for a year).
Will I get a preliminary interview?
It is possible, especially if the nature of the work is sensitive such as working in a hospice. This is a chance for your organisation to assess you and how suited you are to the work; it is also a chance for you to look around the place, meet your employers and decide whether you really want to volunteer there or not. You should expect questions such as:
- Why do you want to volunteer?
- Have you volunteered before?
- How much time can you commit?
- Do you have any special skills such as first aid, play a musical instrument etc?
- What do you hope to gain and learn through your volunteer work?
- How do you think other people and the community would benefit from your voluntary work?
What if I hate it once I start?
Because you are undertaking unpaid work, as long as there is no official contract you are under no real obligation to keep volunteering if you are unhappy. However, it is advisable to talk to your voluntary coordinator or supervisor first to see if the situation may improve in time. Do also talk with the other volunteers; they may have felt the same at first but are glad they had stuck at it.
I'm working/studying full-time. Will I have time?
You can still volunteer out of hours. Typical places could be: campaigning, the Samaritans or other helplines, working with homeless people, befriending, environmental work, after-school clubs and at youth centres.
Will I get training?
Depending on your tasks they could provide you with training, such as first aid, counseling training, infection control, dealing with clients etc; in some cases they may offer long-term training that can lead to a NVQ.
Can I get some recognition for my volunteering?
Millennium Volunteers can give you awards for giving 100 or 200 hours of your time. The Duke of Edinburgh award and the Queen's Guide Award (for girl Guides) also includes a service section, so your volunteering can contribute as part of your award.
If you wish to volunteer overseas - perhaps for a long summer holiday, or as part of a gap year - it is usually through an organisation such as Teaching Abroad. You can expect to pay anything up from £2000, depending on the length of your stay, your destination country and the nature of your work. The cost would usually include transport within the country and accommodation; flights may be included but more often not. You will usually have to fund-raise a substantial amount.
- You will gain a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
- It is a chance to broaden your horizons and experience the cultures of a different country.
- Seeing different perspectives and how other people live allow you to re-evaluate your priorities and make you more mature.
- Living in a new environment is a chance for you to rediscover something about yourself and gain new, or develop old, skills.
- You may feel like you are really making a difference, as many people and communities in developing countries are disadvantaged.
- It will look great on your CV if you do something useful.
- It's a wonderful opportunity to learn a new language.
- Although the project looks exciting on paper, in reality it may be something quite useless and of no real value - your stay may be too brief, or your work too basic as you have no qualifications for it. It can be argued that many gap-year 'placements' are merely for the gappers' benefit - to broaden their horizons etc - rather than making a positive difference to the target community.
- Going abroad to volunteer can be a big commitment; you should be aware of the realistic difficulties you may encounter. It may not be the glamorous and 'cool' experience you were hoping for - you have to be ready for the nitty-gritty aspects such as living in less hygienic conditions, dealing with insects, possibility of illness such as diarrhoea, food poisoning, parasites or something serious like malaria.
- Many organisations charge very much and do very little, remember you are volunteering. Be wary of the prices and try to find a company who charge fairly and advertise what the money is for.
Useful organisations for overseas volunteering
- Plan My Gap Year
- International Volunteer HQ
- World Wide Volunteering
- World Challenge
- Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO)
- AVIVA - South Africa
- BTCV International Conservation
- Volunteering for India