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Finding the right opportunity
04 November 2005

There are lots of volunteering opportunities available but it’s important that you find the one that suits you best. It is a good idea to approach your volunteer search like you would a normal job search. However, rather than being driven by the incentive of getting paid, you are looking for an enjoyable way to spend your valuable time - with the added bonus of helping others. 

There are important factors to consider while looking for volunteer opportunities, so what you find is important to you and fits into your personal and professional life. The more you know about what you want to do, the more valuable you will be to the organization you join as a volunteer. So here are some valuable questions to consider before you make a commitment:

What causes or issues matter the most to you?

Do your research and find the organizations in your community whose missions are in line with your own values. Exploring the organization to find out exactly what they do will allow you to evaluate whether they are doing a credible job and deserve your support. Choosing a cause that you’re passionate about will make your volunteer experience that much more significant to you and give you the motivation to make an enthusiastic contribution to your chosen organization.
Do I want to volunteer for something that uses skills I already have, or do I want to do something completely different?

A good starting point is to consider what you can bring to the organization. If it is a specific skill, such as writing or bricklaying then you can find projects that can benefit directly from your expertise. Do you want volunteering to be an extension of your paying job or a departure from it? What skills do you want to use?
Sometimes volunteers want to do something that is completely different, an opportunity to experience new environments and this is fine too! So whether you’re contributing professional skills, additional qualifications, recreational talents and hobbies, your skills will make a positive impact. However, not all positions require specialised knowledge or skills and the majority of voluntary work simply requires good “people skills” – like being a good listener, offering supportive advice, being positive and friendly.

What would you most like to learn by volunteering?

Volunteering is a great way of using your skills but at the same time a chance to learn something new, which could even lead to a qualification or career progression. Is there something you wished you had the opportunity to learn? Volunteering throws up many original possibilities so it is worth thinking about what you want to do and what you want to get out of it.

What don’t I want to do as a volunteer?

The more content you are with what you’re doing, the better you will perform. Don’t be afraid to identify the things you want to avoid as a volunteer and this will make you happier in the projects you choose to do. You don’t have to say “yes” to everything that is offered to you, so negotiate if necessary to get the best out of volunteering.

Do I want an ongoing, short-term or one-off assignment?

Many people think that volunteering will be time-consuming and they will be tied down to an obligation, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If you are unsure about your commitment then you can opt for temporary or one-off assignments. Other organizations will require a strong commitment so take time to evaluate your availability. Volunteers are invaluable to organizations and they will depend on you to maintain your scheduled promise, so be realistic about the time you have. A good idea is to start off with a limited amount of hours and then increase your availability if you feel you can give more hours or contribute for a longer period. 

Who do I want to work with?

It may be worth considering the type of people you will be working with, if you will be working on your own or with others. It is important to think about these factors before you commit if you have preferences. If you are the type of person that thrives in team situations, working with different personalities, then you should avoid projects that require lengthy periods of individual activity.

Also think about the people who will be benefiting from your help. Do you want the end recipients to be a particular group, such as children or the elderly, or do you want to help a wider section of the population. Be aware that you may have to adhere to legal requirements if working for specialised organizations, for example references and criminal background checks, so be ready for them!

It is important to consider your needs before volunteering and thinking about these questions will help you find the right volunteering place. The closer you match your needs, the more satisfying and meaningful your volunteer experience will be. 

Finding the right opportunity for you by Susan J. Ellis of Energize Inc.