Top Tips

Top tips to getting what you want from volunteering

People volunteer for a wide variety of reasons, especially wanting to help others. But it’s also fine to want some benefits for yourself.

You can view it as an exchange, you give your time, energy and knowledge but in return you can get something back such as to build your CV and explore a career, keep busy, feel needed, proud and worthwhile – volunteering is a two way process.

Starting out in volunteering can feel daunting, so we have answered some of the questions that might be on your mind.

But if you’re still wondering about anything, just get in touch, we’ll be happy to help!

1. How will I know the best role for me?

Think about how much time you have available and what you really care about.
Perhaps, you love animals or maybe gardening’s your thing. Maybe you’ve got life experiences that you could bring to a role. Spend some time searching the  FIND OPPORTUNITIES online database for ideas – you can always ask the organisations questions if you want to find out more – there’s no obligation, they’ll send you some more information about them and about their volunteering opportunities.

Get in touch with us, we can help you. We’ll ask you questions like: what are your hobbies or interests; in a perfect world what would your job be; is their something you would like to learn about. Even if the perfect volunteering role is not out there for you – there maybe stepping stones you can take before you get there.

2. What happens once I have found something I am interested in?

If you have found something you like on FIND OPPORTUNITIES then make sure you have registered all of your details, and then submit your interest in the role you have found. After that it’s down to the organisation you have applied to get in touch – they may send you an application pack or they might even ask you to come and meet them. Each organisation will have a recruitment process to go through before you start volunteering.

If you have contacted the organisation directly via the phone, email or their website, they will then talk you through their recruitment process.

Before you complete the application form, or go for a meeting with them try and find out as much information about the organisation and about the voluntary role as possible. You don’t want to start volunteering and later find you don’t like doing it. You’ll have the role description already, but you can also search the internet for the organisation’s website, maybe contact them and ask them for their annual report. Make sure you know about the charity, its aims and activities, and make sure you have a clear idea of the work you will be involved in before you start.

3. How long will it take before I can get started?

Organisations have different ways of recruiting their volunteers. Most will probably not interview you formally but they will want to have an informal chat following their own recruitment procedures. However, if the role has some responsibility, e.g. for money or accounting, or if you will be working with vulnerable people or certain kinds of equipment, the interview may be more formal (for some roles you may need to complete a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check). In either case this gives you, and the organisation, a chance to assess each other and an opportunity to ask questions.

The sort of questions the organisation will probably want to ask you will vary from organisation to organisation and depend on the type of voluntary work you’re interested in. However, a typical interviewer (formal or informal) may ask any of the following:

  1. Why you are interested in volunteering?
  2. What sort of voluntary work are you interested in?
  3. What particular skills or experience you have?
  4. What new skills would you like to learn through your volunteer work?
  5. How much time you have to offer?

You can ask them anything that you feel unsure about. You may want to ask about the following:

  1. Reimbursement of expenses
  2. Training/qualification opportunities
  3. What variety will there be in the work?
  4. What opportunities for development or progression the role offers?
  5. Support/supervision (someone to talk to regularly about how you are getting on)

4. How much of my time will volunteering take up?

No matter what your availability is, we can generally find something to fit with your schedule – from a couple of hours up to four or five days a week. We’ve got roles available weekdays and weekends, day time and evenings. So if you’re looking for something to do between dropping off and collecting your children from school, or you work during the week, or the only day you have to yourself is a Sunday it shouldn’t be a problem.

  • It is important however, to check out with any organisation you are interested in volunteering for, what time commitment they have in mind. You will need to work out how many hours you will volunteer for and for how long you wish to volunteer.
  • How much time you give is up to you. You can find a short placement that only takes an hour a month – for example, if you work as a befriender, this could take no more than a few hours of your time.
  • For most organisations it’s your long-term commitment that’s vital – particularly if the role involves project work, caring, befriending or mentoring for example.

5. What skills do I need?

  • None – and you may gain skills and experience that you can later use elsewhere, in paid employment or another organisation.
  • Some positions demand a certain amount of experience and qualifications. The organisation will be able to tell you straight away if this is the case with the position you are interested in doing. However, some organisations will offer you the training to enable you to do the work, for example mentors are trained before they are allowed to volunteer.
  • It’s becoming more common for organisations to offer volunteers qualifications such as an NVQ. Don’t dismiss an organisation just because it doesn’t run an accredited volunteer programme. You may find that no matter what the opportunity you still learn a lot and gain valuable experience, skills and a reference.
  • If your motivation for volunteering is training make sure you clarify this with the organisation before you start.
  • To some extent training can depend on the type of work you will be doing. So, if you’re spending one day clearing overgrowth from paths, expect about 15 minutes at the start being told what to do, how to use the tools and what health and safety precautions to take. But if you volunteer to give welfare benefits advice you should get much more training. You might get 10 two-hour training sessions spread over several weeks before you see a client, plus ongoing training to keep you up-to-date.
  • You should be supported formally through supervisions, and when, where and with whom should be set out in your induction. These are opportunities to talk about things you might want to learn and to comment on how your volunteering work is going.

6. Are there any rules that I should know about before I volunteer?

  • As a volunteer you can offer varying levels of commitment and responsibility to an organisation, what you are willing to give should be discussed in your induction or at supervision if things change. However, as a volunteer you should be reliable, keeping to times and dates and letting people know if you cannot make it in to the organisation. You should carry out your tasks and comply with all the organisations policies and procedures. If you encounter problems don’t be afraid to talk to your supervisor or the appropriate person. You should respect the organisations and the confidentiality of their clients.
  • These ‘rules’ are set out in a volunteer agreement that you might be asked to read and sign during your induction. You will also receive the organisations policies and procedures during your induction. These are documents that set out rules of engagement and behaviour that the organisation expects from all of its volunteers and paid workers alike.
  • Grievances and leaving a placement
    You are not legally bound by a contract, as paid workers are, and therefore, are free to leave whenever you like. So, if you don’t like the work you can leave. You are under no real obligation to keep volunteering for an organisation that you unhappy in. But our advice would be to talk to someone in the organisation before you leave. You might find that the organisation can do something to change the circumstances or offer you something different that you might enjoy. If you feel that you have been mistreated as a volunteer you have the same right to grievance and appeal procedures as paid employees, these procedures can vary, but should be set out in your induction.

7. How much does it cost?

As a volunteer you will not be paid for your time, the law is very strict about this and payment includes gifts. However out of pocket expenses, i.e. travel, lunch and equipment costs are usually repaid. These payments can usually only be made if a receipt is produced. And lunch expenses can only be claimed if you are working both a morning and afternoon session. The organisation will advise you when and how payments will be made.

8. Will volunteering affect my benefits?

People can volunteer whilst on benefits. Community Action Suffolk will be able to give you confidential advice on this. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) booklet ‘Volunteering while getting benefits’ is also useful guide.

If you have any questions, or would like to know more, contact the CAS Volunteering Team at [email protected] or 01473 345400.