The benefits of volunteering, where to look for opportunities, and the practical considerations.
All types of employers view volunteering as valuable, and in some cases more valuable than paid work. It is worth putting on your CV.
By volunteering you can:
- gain valuable experience for an area that you would like a career in, for example teaching, PR or social work.
- test out certain career areas to see if you enjoy them
- learn new skills - both practical skills and'soft' skills such as communication, time management and problem solving
- meet new people, make contacts
- learn more about a cause
- improve your self-confidence and self-esteem
- 'give something back' to society
What do organisations look for when they recruit volunteers?
- Personal qualities – enthusiasm, cheerfulness, patience and understanding
- Expertise - particular abilities will always be welcomed. Practical or technical skills will be useful for conservation projects. Teaching and advice roles need strong communication skills.
- You don't always need relevant experience but you may need to commit to undertaking training. This may mean you need to wait for the next training course before you can start volunteering.
- Affinity – do you share the aims, objectives and values of the organisation?
- Reliability Although it is not paid work, you are still entering into an agreement with them. Be realistic about how much time you can offer
- Some organisations may only need you occasionally. Others will look for regular and sustained involvement. You may need to agree a trial period
For information about volunteers’ rights see the Students’ Association Volunteering Service.
The Students' Association Volunteering Service offers a huge variety of volunteering opportunities appropriate for students. It administers the Edinburgh Award for Volunteering.
If you have your own idea of a project that could make a difference to others in the local community, but are not how to organise it, the Service can support you to make it a reality.
Its website includes advice on volunteer rights and information specifically for international students (see the faq section).
Volunteer Centre Edinburgh - acts as a placement and advice service for volunteers in Edinburgh. Their website contains a database of current opportunities which you can search by activity or client group.
Volunteering centres exist throughout the UK and can advise you on finding suitable opportunities.
There are matching agencies which put you in touch with short and long-term volunteering opportunities. Here is an example of one:
MyCareerHub includes international volunteering opportunities:
Edinburgh Global Partnerships - this student society organises sustainable development projects overseas.
Our Go Abroad Fair includes volunteering opportunities.
VSO - Voluntary Service Overseas -works in Africa and Asia. Its International Citizen Service programme provides volunteer placements to 18-25 year olds and Team Leader placements to 23-35 year olds.
Do your research
Before signing up for anything it is important to research the organisation and what you will actually be doing once you are overseas. Here are some basic questions to ask:
The Responsible Volunteering website has impartial advice on selecting a volunteer placement, including suggested questions to ask volunteer abroad organisations.
Funding and fundraising
It’s usual to pay to take part in an overseas volunteering programme. This is to cover things like accommodation, food, travel within the country and insurance. It makes sense to 'shop around' and find out exactly where your money will be going before you commit.
You will probably be expected to do some fundraising. Voluntary organisations should be able to provide ideas of ways to do this. How you find the funds to be able to do your placement is part of the whole experience and you will gain a wide range of valuable skills from this exercise alone.
Be inspired by Chloe, Liz and Hao Zhang as they talk about their volunteering experiences on Inform.ed, the Careers Service blog.