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How to find a good volunteer role

Three students at a welcome desk
Three students at a welcome desk

| Photograph: Valentin Russo
Written by
Careers and Employability
Published date
09 February 2022

Volunteering can be a great way to meet new people, learn new skills and give something back to the community. However, not all volunteer roles are created equal, and sometimes they are just jobs you’re working for free. Here’s our guide to help you find a volunteer opportunity that suits you.

What is volunteering?

Volunteering is an unpaid opportunity to provide service for a charity or third sector (voluntary or public sector) organization with no contractual obligation. There should be no contract of employment and no obligation to undertake specific instruction. Volunteering can take many forms, for example, handing out bottles of water at a marathon, helping to maintain a website, or cooking food for a community café.

  1. How much time you can give 
    The first place to start when looking for a volunteer role is to look at how much free time you have to offer. Perhaps you’re looking for something to fill up your weekend mornings, or you want to offer one night a week. The good thing about volunteering is that you can find an opportunity to suit almost any schedule but be realistic about how much time you’ll be able to give – don’t sign up for more than you can handle. Remember to take care of yourself first, giving too much time away can lead to burnout.
  1. Do you enjoy and care about the cause? 

    Giving your time to a cause close to your heart can be a very enriching experience. It can help you feel closer to your community and build your knowledge of the cause. Identifying an area which you’re interested in can also be a good way to find volunteer opportunities. Follow organisations you’re interested in on social media, they’ll usually post when they need help or are recruiting new volunteers.

  2. Are you just working another job?

    Volunteers are not a substitute for an employee. If you are doing unpaid work or receiving payment in kind (with the exception of being reimbursed for reasonable travel and subsistence expenses) it’s not a voluntary role. Make sure you’re not taking on the role of a paid employee and remember you don’t have any obligation to take on specific roles or tasks. Sometimes you may be using your skillset as part of a volunteer role but you shouldn’t be solely responsible for a key part of the organisations operation.

  1. Are you helping people? 

    Sometimes you’ll encounter an organisation who appears to be helping a group or community, but their involvement is causing further issues. For example, buy one give one models of business or the true impact of overseas voluntourism. When looking at an organisation to volunteer with, check if they involve key stakeholders from the cause they are trying to help. In recent years there has been a shift away from just giving aid in favour of creating projects with long term sustainability goals. These are causes to get behind and champion if you want to make a difference with your volunteering.

  1. Are you gaining new skills or making new connections? 

    If there’s a particular skill you’re looking to practice, finding an opportunity that gives you a reason to practice it is great. Some opportunities will offer specific training as part of your volunteering, you can get certifications in first aid, food preparation and many more subjects depending on the kind of work. You can also meet people outside of your network and make new friends through volunteering. Many groups will go for a coffee or to the pub after their shifts end or organise volunteer socials to thank you for the time given. Getting something back from volunteering isn’t a bad thing, it’s one of the many benefits.

  2. Do they offer volunteer support? If you’re volunteering with a vulnerable community, or for an organisation which deals with a cause which is quite sensitive, does the organisation offer safeguarding training, risk assessments or a debrief? Be sure to check in with yourself afterwards and don’t underestimate the impact it could have on your mood. If you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s okay to ask the organisation for support, even if that’s just a chat about your experience.

Creative Opportunities offers meaningful volunteer roles, which means we promote volunteering roles that focus on creative roles and sectors leading to graduate-level experience, allowing for genuine career progression. We recognise that these opportunities can allow students and graduates to gain direct valuable industry insight whilst developing skills and experience to progress in a career.  We will not advertise roles that we suspect may be exploitative, unpaid work.

These roles must come from UK-based charities registered with the UK Charity Commission, not-for-profit organisations, associated fundraising bodies, a statutory body or voluntary organisations from the third sector. Voluntary organisations should have a written health and safety policy; a statement on equal opportunities statement or policy and Public Liability insurance.

For international students, note that voluntary work contributes to your work allowance on a Student/Tier 4 visa.

For more information see our volunteering policy.

Remember to protect your Intellectual Property!

If you’re creating work for an organisation, for example illustrations, video or social content, or a website, be sure to protect your intellectual property. Come to an agreement about how your work will be used beforehand. You could grant them a license or make your work free to use but keep a record of your creative process, any copyrights you hold for the work, and a record of how you’ll allow the work to be used. For more information check out our IP module.

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