Volunteering is a great way for you to gain experience and learn about a sector in a casual way without committing your career to it. Unlike other forms of work experience, volunteering is unpaid but is a great addition to your CV based on the skills that you acquire while working and the commitment you show to the sector and the cause. Since everyone in an organisation is working towards a common goal which is often charitable, volunteering can help you feel integrated into your community and create new like-minded friends and connections.
- What is volunteering?
- What are the benefits of volunteering?
- Where can you volunteer?
- How to get into volunteering?
- Can you get paid to volunteer?
The type of volunteering you do depends on the organisation you’re volunteering for. Since you’re working for free, you can often choose the hours and days you work and base this around your other requirements, for example, work or education. With so many volunteering opportunities available, you might choose to volunteer in the UK, either online or in-person or even abroad.
What is volunteering?
Volunteering is an opportunity to work for and learn from an organisation without pay but with much more flexibility than paid work. You might decide to volunteer for a public and charity sector organisation, but the type of work you undertake can vary significantly based on the cause that the organisation benefits. Despite being a volunteer, you might work alongside colleagues who are paid members of staff who you support. Often, as a volunteer, you receive more fun or enjoyable tasks compared to paid staff or simply more choice in the work you’re doing.
Read our guide to learn about 8 skills and qualities to excel in the charity sector.
What are the benefits of volunteering?
Volunteering offers many benefits that you can use throughout your professional and personal life. For example, it’s a meaningful activity you can add to your CV, plus it can be great for your wellbeing and is important work for a cause you care about. Here are some of the benefits you can gain from volunteering:
Meeting new people, creating new friendships and joining a team
Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, especially if you are new to an area. It also strengthens your ties to the community and broadens your support network, exposing you to people with both common and diverse interests. Being part of a team is extremely beneficial and gives a sense of belonging and a connection to others.
Gaining new skills and developing existing ones
While undertaking voluntary work, you can learn many useful skills. This can help in your career advancement or help in a change of career. Some of the important skills you can learn are teamwork, organisation, how to operate professionally in an organisation and more task-specific skills too, for example working with a budget, persuasive writing skills and fundraising. Learning these skills can boost your CV and help you decide whether you enjoy the tasks you’re completing, giving you more of an idea of the type of job you’d enjoy.
Volunteering gives you the opportunity to develop your social skills since you are meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests. Once you have momentum, it’s easier to branch out and make more friends and contacts.
Staying physically and mentally healthy!
Volunteering can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence, self-esteem and life satisfaction. You’re supporting an organisation you care about which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity which can help you decide on the job you might like in the future and improve your wellbeing.
Volunteering can help improve your mental health and wellbeing by keeping you stimulated and active. It keeps you in regular contact with other people meaning you can feel more socially active. You might also be challenging yourself by completing work which takes you out of your comfort zone. Whilst this can be intimidating at first, it’s important to have new experiences and expand your portfolio. Plus it’s a great addition to your CV.
Helping others and those in need
Helping people, groups, animals and even objects in need is what volunteering is all about. All charities and nonprofits have a mission or an aim they’d like to achieve. By volunteering for one of these groups, you get to help with this mission and have a positive impact on a cause that you care about
Whilst voluntary organisations need to have some paid employees, the huge number of volunteers in all charitable organisations means that paid employees can be kept to a minimum. This means that most of the funds earned can go towards the cause rather than expenses. Without volunteers, the charity sector would not achieve the amazing results it currently does.
Where can you volunteer?
Types of volunteering
Volunteering in a nursing home typically involves giving residents company and assisting them in their day-to-day activities. Communication and people skills are essential in this role so you can interact effectively with the residents of the nursing home and your colleagues.
Volunteer work with animals may involve walking dogs and kennel duties, looking after injured animals or administration and office tasks. Experience with animals is essential for this kind of volunteering as well as organisation and working well under pressure. Additionally, volunteering is sometimes a necessity for certain qualifications, for example, if you’re training to be a vet, you’re often required to volunteer for a range of vet clinics to gain hands-on experience.
Schools and libraries
Voluntary work in schools and libraries can involve helping children with numeracy or literacy. In this role, you develop hard and soft skills applicable to potential future roles, such as a strong work ethic and a can-do attitude. Communication skills are essential when working with children as well as enthusiasm and patience. Remember, you may need a DBS check when volunteering with children, so be sure to check the requirements before signing up.
Charity and second-hand shops
Volunteering in this industry may involve organising stock, pricing goods and arranging deductions, working on the till and setting up displays. Skills that you can learn from this include communication, organisation, leadership and teamwork.
This volunteering would be super beneficial if you want to work in the Consumer, FMCG & Retail sectors as it displays a desire and aptitude to work in a retail environment.
Voluntary work helping at a homeless shelter often involves serving food to homeless people, befriending homeless people and also logistical operations. This is a great way to give back to your community and can help to develop communication and organisational skills.
If this is of interest to you, you can join the Refuge Network.
Home constructions organisation
Home construction volunteering is most common outside of the UK where charity organisations need people to help build schools, homes, healthcare facilities and other buildings. This form of volunteering often requires some physical ability as well as great communication and determination.
This is a great way to gain work experience if you are interested in working in Engineering & Construction.
Museums and art galleries
Volunteering in an art gallery or museum helps you gain experience in the industry whilst working and learning about the cultural exhibits. It's ideal if you're looking for volunteering opportunities which are less physical and focus on education. You may help with curation, extra activities run at the gallery or office administration. Skills required may be communication, creativity and strong attention to detail.
Online or virtual volunteering
If you’re looking for volunteering opportunities which fit around your schedule and can be done at home, online, or virtual, volunteering could be a great option for you. You can still develop the same skills, even if you have less time to commit or aren’t near to volunteering opportunities that match what you’re after. Online volunteering opportunities include, but are not limited to:
- Telephone volunteers for charities such as Age UK, to help prevent loneliness in older people
- Mind charity has blogging and vlogging positions
- Innocent in partnership with Age UK require people to knit hats for their smoothie bottles
- Working with Letters against loneliness
- United Nations volunteering opportunities
- Orphan life foundation supporting children
- United planet working to help develop a global community
Volunteering organisations in the UK
There are many organisations where you can volunteer in the UK, including:
This is a database of UK volunteering opportunities. There are over a million available and you can filter by location, sector and interest. It’s then easy to apply online.
National Citizen Service (NCS) is a voluntary personal and social development programme for 15-17-year-olds. It’s free to join and takes place in either the summer holidays or half terms. Through NCS, you can boost your UCAS statement or CV and meet new friends!
Volunteering at the British Red Cross involves making a difference in your community by helping vulnerable people. You can volunteer in some roles from as young as 15, and it’s the world's largest humanitarian aid organisation!
At the Wildlife Trust, there are lots of different ways to donate your time and get involved in looking after wildlife. Their volunteers carry out a huge range of tasks, lots of which are working with animals, but it doesn't have to be! You could find yourself making use of your organisational, IT, administrative or financial skills too. The Wildlife Trust has locations all over the UK.
NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations)
NCVO is the membership community for charities, voluntary organisations and community groups in England. Join NVCO to get involved with more than 15,000 different voluntary roles.
Volunteer Scotland and Volunteer Wales are platforms promoting volunteering opportunities in Scotland and Wales. They also provide volunteer practice and training to help you to develop your hard and soft skills.
The Association of Jersey Charities is a company representing charitable organisations working in Jersey. They aim to encourage charitable and community work in Jersey and, especially, to encourage collaboration of activities between members and prospective members, encourage discussion and exchange of ideas regarding service to the community.
Volunteering matters is a national company that partners with communities to try to overcome adversity, tackle social isolation and loneliness, improve health, develop skills and opportunities and make sure young people can lead change. Because they’re a national charity, they’re able to do this at scale by sharing their expertise and building partnerships to make a bigger impact.
This is a volunteering programme for students in London, offering a variety of volunteer opportunities in London. They also provide teaching, training and grants for the public sector.
Volunteering organisations abroad
Volunteering doesn’t just have to be in the UK. You can volunteer all over the world! Overseas volunteering can last from a couple of weeks to a whole year. It's common for students and graduates to take a voluntary position for the purpose of their gap year.
There are lots of options when volunteering abroad, including animal care, childcare, conservation, education and sports projects. There are also organisations designed to set you up with overseas voluntary roles such as Voluntary Service Overseas and Go Abroad.
Be sure to check foreign travel advice, to find out what you need to travel to certain countries after the pandemic.
How to get into volunteering?
If you want to get involved with volunteer work, first you should decide on a cause you are passionate about, whether that be animal care, homelessness, poverty or education, among many others. It’s important to identify the skills that may be required for the role you are after. You can then use one of the many UK and international volunteering organisations to search for positions that may suit you.
Then, be sure to create a stand-out CV and cover letter. Some volunteer roles are more competitive than others, so many sure your application is great before applying.
Can you get paid to volunteer?
Volunteering is unpaid work. This is because it is predominately non-profit organisations offering volunteering opportunities. However, sometimes during volunteering, the organisation will cover your travel. Volunteering may lead to paid opportunities once you’ve demonstrated your experience and worth to the organisation, plus your passion for the mission.
When volunteering work is compensated, you typically receive necessities in exchange for your work rather than being paid directly. This might include food or accommodation, particularly when you’re volunteering abroad.
Some overseas volunteer opportunities may require you to pay to be involved. This can be to cover expenses for accommodation, transport or food if the organisation isn’t able to cover those costs. Therefore, make sure you know about any costs of volunteering for the organisation before you sign up.
Volunteering is a worthwhile form of work experience which helps you build up your CV whilst having a positive impact on a cause you’re passionate about. You can boost your skillset, improving on many necessary skills that you need for your career like communication, organisation and teamwork, whilst doing a relatively low-pressure and flexible role. There are many opportunities you can get involved with through volunteering, so make sure you’re passionate about the organisation’s mission before you sign up. This will give you an extra boost to perform well and a great talking point in your future interviews.