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Getting started
18 October 2005

Whether it is your time or expertise, it is important to decide what it is that you can offer. For most voluntary jobs you don’t need any formal qualifications. If the job requires a specific skill then the organization will make sure you have training and supervision. Even if you think you don’t have any specific skill to offer, remember that many volunteering jobs involve just being there to talk to someone or an extra pair of hands. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you commit to an organization.

How much time do I have to commit? Do I want an ongoing, regularly scheduled assignment, a short-term assignment or a one-off assignment?

A common misconception about volunteering is that you will be tied down to a long-term obligation. This is not true.  Recruiters are well aware of volunteers’ responsibilities outside their organization and realize you might not have much time to spare. This is why many organizations offer very flexible working periods and you don’t need to give up a great deal of time, so choose one that suits you. You could get involved in a one-off fundraising event which only takes place once a year. Or if you decide to make a regular commitment, it might be for an hour a month or several hours a week – the choice is yours. 

There are many people, places and organizations that need volunteers and now you can decide how best you can benefit them. Here are some tips for getting started:

First, ask yourself if there is something specific you want to do. 

For example,  do I want…

…to make it better around where I live

…to meet people who are different from me

…to try something new

…to do something with my spare time

…to see a different way of life and new places

…to have a go at the type of work I might want to do as a full-time job

…to do more with my interests and hobbies

…to do something I’m good at

The best way to volunteer is to match your personality and interests. Having answers to these questions will help you narrow down your search.

Still have no idea? Then read on…

Browse through your local newspapers and in the phonebook to see what voluntary programmes there are. Also find out about local charities and community groups. Call and ask them to give you more information.

Visit your local town website or try searches on the internet. You may find volunteer opportunities listed there. 

Contact your local advice bureau, cultural/arts association, student organization, or another association that can point you in the right direction.

Libraries, religious organizations, and hospitals are excellent avenues to explore volunteer opportunites too.

Here are some other organizations that are worth looking into and that you may not have thought of… 

Day care centresNeighbourhood watch groupsSchools and collegesDrug rehabilitation centresCivic clubsRetirement centres and homes for the elderlyMeals on wheelsHomeless drop-in centres, projects or soup kitchensMuseaums, art galleries, theatres and monumentsCommunity choirs, bands and orchestrasPrisonsParks or environmental/conservation projectsYouth organizations, sports teams, and after school programmesRefuges and shelters for women and childrenHistorical restorations and national parks

The possibilities are endless! Take time to explore your local community and find out about the hidden issues and projects that could do with an enthusiastic voice and extra pair of hands.

Once you have got a shortlist of organizations, call to ask for more information or if you prefer, write them a letter asking them to tell you more about the opportunities available.  You may be asked to go in for an interview, informal chat or visit, depending on the organization, but use this as an opportunity to find out more about the projects and what you will be doing.