There are all sorts of factors that motivate people to get involved as a volunteer.
For many there is a genuine concern for the well-being of others and a belief that to get the most out of life, you need to contribute fully to society. However, there are other less obvious reasons why you might choose to volunteer and it is understandable to think about what you personally might get from this experience. Some of the benefits of volunteering include
According to the Institute for Volunteering Research, most OU students who volunteer gain a sense of satisfaction from their involvement, a broader experience of life, and an opportunity to meet new people and make friends.
The national charity Timebank says that many volunteers find the experience challenging, and that in itself helps them to acquire the skills to face other difficulties in their lives.
I think that a lot of people start volunteering as a way of coping with a big – sometimes very unwelcome – change in their lives. Obviously, volunteers greatly help those they work for, but it quickly became apparent to me that I was getting a great deal more benefit from volunteering than I had ever expected. During the hard times especially, it was a real life-saver to have something else to think about and also the support of those around me.OU student
The term ‘voluntary’ doesn’t equate to ‘optional’. If you decide to get involved as a volunteer, your reliability and commitment to the organisation you work for is crucial – people are relying on you and expect that you will take your responsibilities as an unpaid worker seriously. So be realistic about the sort of contribution you can make as a volunteer, alongside your OU study and existing work and personal commitments. Would the occasional ‘one off’ event or a short-term project best suit the time you have available, or are you able to make a regular, more long-term commitment? For the more sensitive and demanding voluntary opportunities, such as counselling, advice work or citizen advocacy, there will be a rigorous selection process that may require both references and Criminal Record Board (CRB) checks. Prior training may need to be undertaken.
Think carefully about your motivation for volunteering and what you want to gain as well as what you can offer.
Obviously there are many choices available to you, not only in terms of the type of voluntary work which might be most appropriate for you, but also in terms of when to volunteer. If you are a current OU student, be realistic about the additional commitments you can take on. If you are planning a short break from your studies, this could be the ideal time to get involved – possibly to apply some of the knowledge you have gained from your study and to provide direction for future course choices. Alternatively, if you are about to complete your OU study, you’ll probably find that you have got more time on your hands now, so you may wish to make good use of it.
The study unit, "Using voluntary work to get ahead in the job market", available free on the Open University's OpenLearn website, contains information and activities to help you identify what type of volunteering might suit you, where to find opportunities for volunteering and how to market the skills you acquire to enhance your employability.
If you are an OU student or graduate and would like to discuss your ideas and explore options, you can contact a careers adviser at your OU regional or national centre.
Volunteering can be an excellent way to further your studies and enhance your career prospects. To compete effectively in the current economic climate, and to enhance your employability, it’s crucial that you can provide evidence to employers of the transferable skills you possess, many of which can be gained as a volunteer. The competencies demanded by graduate recruiters commonly include.
Make time to reflect upon the experience you have gained and how it might relate to your future career plans.
Think carefully about how you will ‘sell’ this experience in your CV and future application forms. Voluntary work can give you an insight into an area of work, as well as developing your skills, qualities and experience. It will help your case if you explain to a prospective employer how you have researched your career ideas and made a positive decision about your future career goals. It shows commitment, and employers are impressed by individuals who give their time to worthwhile initiatives. In addition, undertaking some voluntary work enhances your CV, gives you access to useful contacts, and helps to develop your network of contacts. It might even get you noticed by a prospective employer.
The study unit "Using voluntary work to get ahead in the job market", available free on the Open University's OpenLearn website, contains information and activities to help you identify and market skills acquired from voluntary work to enhance your employability.
Most employers look very favourably upon applicants who can, alongside other evidence provided in their application, show that they have worked as a volunteer. As well as indicating which organisation you volunteered with, it’s important to explain exactly what your responsibilities were, what you learnt and the skills you developed as a result. The transferable skills developed in voluntary work are applicable in most work situations.
UK graduate recruiters explain how they view applicants who have voluntary work experience.
A graduate needs more than just academic achievements to standout from the crowd. Student volunteering can have a positive impact upon an individual's employability. It can provide access to a network of people and challenging opportunities; aids personal development; enhances academic learning - most of all it fosters a proactive attitude.Group Graduate Programme Manager, The Co-operative Group
In a challenging recruitment market, students will really benefit from up skilling and developing themselves to stand out amongst their peers and differentiate them from other applicants. A great way to do this is by volunteering. Not only do individuals usually gain broader business skills and an understanding of the culture and world of work, but are also able to give something back and support others.
It provides candidates with a great example of demonstrating their initiative, drive and determination, even more so if the experience required fund raising or travelling away from home for long periods.Graduate Recruitment Lead, Accenture
If you decide that volunteering is for you, how do you find out more about the available opportunities?
A good starting point is the Prospects website, which includes a comprehensive section on charities and voluntary work. Even if you are looking to work on an unpaid basis, bear in mind that the ‘not-for-profit’ sector employs over 600,000 people in the UK alone (about 2% of its overall paid workforce). The extensive work of these organisations is only made possible through the valuable contribution of its volunteers.
The Charity Job website also lists charities, non-governmental organisations, and not-for-profit sector jobs and voluntary opportunities.
The OU Careers Advisory Service provides an online vacancy service, which lists full and part-time opportunities, work experience, internships and voluntary work submitted to it. You can run searches and also, having registered, be notified by email of relevant opportunities.
There is network of volunteer bureaux across the UK, often linked to, or part of the Council for Voluntary Service (CVS), which you can investigate further through their national association, NAVCA. It offers information on the voluntary organisations in your area and the sort of assistance they currently require. Your local public library can also provide you with details of local voluntary organisations.
Websites like Do-it allow you to search a database of voluntary opportunities on the basis of geographical location, your time availability and preferred type of activity. The areas covered include
Look at the charity’s website, use your own contacts, and watch out for special events such as open evenings which a charity might organise to attract new volunteers.
Although these pages primarily focus on part-time volunteering in the UK, you will find links through websites such as World Wide Volunteering to projects worldwide. If you are an OU student based outside the UK and Ireland, there will be similar options open to you in your own country, and you may just need to do some searching on the internet to identify contacts. Alternatively, if you fancy taking a holiday with a difference, you will also find short-term opportunities available through the STA website, which offers a range of ‘meaningful travel projects’.
There is useful information on different types of overseas volunteering and advice on how to choose an organisation on the LSE's volunteering overseas webpage. If it is important to you that your international volunteering is of value, look at the Ethical Volunteering website which contains a guide to finding an ethical organisation, with questions to ask both them and yourself before making your choice.
If you want to find out more, try some of these additional resources.
I volunteered two days a week for the charity Action for Sustainable Living. This gave me an inside knowledge of the charity and I built a strong relationship with staff members. When paid roles were made available, I had a clear advantage over other applicants.
I’m a treasurer of a youth football team, which I find very rewarding as well as tiring and time consuming. Trying to fit in my job, my OU course and this voluntary work is really stretching me! I would recommend anyone looking for work experience to try volunteering as a means of adding depth to your CV.
Although I am now paid, I started my career as a volunteer advocate whilst working as computer programmer. This facilitated a change into the world of social care and gave me the disability awareness I needed to change roles.