There are many different ways of getting involved in voluntary work, from helping out at the local primary school to befriending someone who has mental health difficulties. Organisations in the community really value the help given to them by students.
Voluntary work ranges from administration and campaigning to practical support, advice and counselling. There are opportunities for short and long-term involvement. Provided that you can show reliability, commitment, enthusiasm, patience and flexibility, you could be involved in very interesting projects alongside professionals who will provide you with support and may act as referees when you apply for employment.
Benefits of voluntary work
- It provides work experience that can be added to your CV.
- It provides employers with evidence of interpersonal skills and self-reliance.
- It allows you to ‘give something back to society’. The voluntary sector is expanding rapidly and organisations are interested in recruiting more graduates. Having previous experience as a volunteer may give you an advantage at the selection stage.
- Some professions, such as social work, clinical psychology and teaching, require you to have a knowledge and understanding of what the work entails. Relevant voluntary work can provide the experience required.
Short-term voluntary work
Many organisations welcome students and graduates for a semester or an academic year. Check with your local advice/information centres or the public library. Many organisations offer training to help you cope and some provide courses in counselling skills.
Long-term voluntary work
Residential voluntary work can be the easiest as it provides accommodation, food and travel expenses. Often you get pocket money or local wages if working abroad. You work closely within a well supported team of like-minded individuals.
Working overseas gives you the chance to demonstrate skills like adaptability, resilience and independence. Always check with the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for Northern Ireland when going overseas to be sure your destination is considered safe.
You will find specialist organisations set up to provide support, training and information. They act as a one-stop shop for voluntary agencies and maintain a database of current opportunities. They also provide training for volunteers, which can lead to recognised qualifications.
Why would I volunteer?
Even after your academic study you may still be uncertain about what to do next. You may want to travel abroad or get experience in a career area before specialising. You may also be motivated by the opportunity to make life better for others or to ‘give something back’.
Where do I start?
You should have questions too: ask for written information about the charity’s programmes, finances and their credentials. Make certain you are comfortable with their fundraising methods and policies on expenditure of funds.
If you wish to develop a particular skill, look for a charity or volunteer group with a job profile that suits your aims and will incorporate supervision or appraisal sessions to assess your development.
Research the causes that are important to you – look at groups or organisations that work with issues you feel strongly about. Consider the skills you have to offer – many voluntary organisations will try to match your skills and knowledge to their needs. Be aware you may have to attend an interview or fill out an application form. Vetting procedures may be undertaken in the interests of children and ‘at risk’ populations, which the organisation has a legal responsibility to consider.