There are a huge number of different volunteering opportunities on offer. They vary widely in content and length. In almost all cases, however, they will not be paid, but expenses, such as travel and lunch, may be covered.
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Volunteering can be roughly divided into three categories:
Flexible, Informal Volunteering: Informal here does not mean that you can pick and choose when you turn up. Most organisations will require a fixed commitment but it may only be a few hours a week, working on the ground for a local charity, school, hospital or other organisation. You may be able to switch your hours every week, meaning you can fit it around your other activities and commitments. Examples of this type of volunteering include working in a youth centre or for a charity shop.
Formal or Professional Volunteering: This may be a fixed term placement or even a full time role working for a charity or non-profit organisation. You will most likely be higher up in the management structure and some positions may require you to already have certain knowledge and expertise. Often this may be more like a proper job. You may think of carrying out this style of volunteering in the summer holidays or on a gap year prior to university.
Volunteering Abroad: Often young people chose to volunteer abroad during a gap year or during university holidays. This will probably involve working for between a few weeks and a few months on one particular project. Projects may include teaching in schools and orphanages, teaching or looking after endangered animals. This can be a great way to see the world and help people but you should be mindful that in many cases this kind of volunteering can be very harmful to the infrastructures and communities of the countries you are working in. It is very important to volunteer with the right company. See how to find an ethical project for more details.
Volunteering a great way to improve your skill set. Wherever you work, you will gain a number of transferrable skills. Continuous voluntary work (eg. a few hours a week) is evidence of organisational ability, time-management and reliability and any volunteer work in an office environment will give you all the professional skills you need for your future career.
It is also a good idea to tailor your volunteering. By doing so, you can gain experience and skills particular to your chosen educational or career path. For example, if you are looking to becoming a nurse or social worker, you might think about working in an old people's home.
Volunteering, therefore, really boosts your university and job applications, especially since you will also be given a reference. However, it also makes you a more rounded human being. Through volunteering, you will make new friends and boost your confidence and, by dedicating your time to a cause you are really passionate about, you become more interesting.
Finding a Volunteering Opportunity:
There are plenty of opportunities for volunteering. The column on the right hand sideshows some of the best websites that help you specifically find a volunteering position. For formal, fixed volunteering opportunities, the best place to look is on job search websites that specialise in Charity and third sector work.
Depending on the type of position you are applying for, you may have to fill out an application form and or attend an interview.