How to find the volunteer role that’s right for you
It’s National Volunteer Week this week so the perfect time to think about whether volunteering might be right for you. When it’s working well, volunteering is fantastic for everyone involved. Charities get free, motivated, passionate workers and volunteers are happy knowing they’re making a difference for a cause they care about.
But that’s not all, there’s an increasing body of research which shows volunteers not only feel happier they’re also healthier and even live longer! A 2007 study by Dr Arthur Brooks of Syracuse university found that those who ‘give’ either money or time were 42% more likely to feel happier and 25% more likely to report they were in excellent health. A meta-analysis, published by the University of Michigan/Arizona in 2017 definitively showed that volunteering both keeps you healthier and means you’re likely to live longer.
But while volunteering can be great, the difficulty is often finding the role that’s right for you. Many people in our Full Time Lives community have told us they found it difficult getting a volunteer role that suited them, or they were disillusioned with the volunteering they did. In reality, finding the right volunteer role is just as difficult as finding the right full time role - there’s so many variables. Do you want to use your skills? Work for a particular cause? How many hours a week do you want to work? Long term or short term? In person or remote? How far are you prepared to travel?
While of course we volunteer to do something worthwhile, for it to work long-term for both parties the fit needs to be right. Luckily there’s now an incredible array of volunteering options available and a lot of different companies and websites set up to help you. But that creates its own problems, which one to use?
Here’s our guide to finding the right volunteer role:
Local, in-person volunteering
Most people like to volunteer in-person, somewhere close to where they live. Apart from asking around your local area the obvious place to start looking for this type of role is through Volunteering Australia, Australia’s peak national body. You can apply for roles posted by charities through its website, Go Volunteer, which is also partnered with Seek. The good bit is you can filter by your interests, geographic area, skills and also the amount of time you’re prepared to commit. The search functionality is a bit tricky, but works quite well when you get the hang of it. If you take the time to set up a profile on the site then you can save all of your different criteria and it will recommend opportunities to you.
Make your own opportunity
Just because an opportunity isn’t listed, it doesn’t mean it’s not available. Many charities and other not for profits haven’t had time to post their roles or haven’t really figured out what they need. This can mean they’re open to being approached by willing volunteers.
Why not approach it like a paid-for role and do some research into your favourite organisation and suggest ways you could help them? If you’re looking for inspiration on who to approach some useful places to start are:
- All Australian charities are listed on the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission website. However it does only list registered charities and the search functionality isn’t great.
- The search functionality on Pro-bono Australia is better as you can filter by location, profession and through keywords.
- You can also search the growing number of B-Corporations (for-profit companies that have committed to creating a positive impact of the world) via the B-Corp website.
- Don’t forget about the massive amount of unpaid work which goes into many different sports clubs. You can find a very wide range of sporting organisations via the NSW Govt ‘Office of Sport’ (or the equivalent in your state).
Skilled volunteering (pro bono work)
If you want to use the skills and experience you’ve built up over your life then you should consider skilled volunteering, also known as pro-bono work. If you’re already working for a company you should check with your HR department whether they can help you find a role. If not, then don’t worry, there’s help available.
Go Volunteer runs a skilled volunteering weekly alert service where you are emailed all of the new ‘skilled’ opportunities which come up. These are the same opportunities which are listed in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Help Desk column.The problem is these are quite random, unfiltered opportunities in a wide geographic area so it’s unlikely exactly you’ll get exactly what you’re looking for.
Many charities and purposeful businesses which are less well known are also looking for people with skills and experience to help them manage their businesses or sit on their management committees or boards. Many of these positions are word-of-mouth, but you can also search for a role on the Institute of Community Directors of Australia website.
Volunteer remotely (online)
There’s also a growing number of online businesses which match skilled volunteers with not-for-profits that need help. Some of the best of these are:
- Idealist has internships, short and long-term projects and both online or in-person volunteering in many different countries around the world. You can also be quite specific in what you’re looking for with the search criteria.
- Catchafire matches skilled people with pro bono work, mainly online and is filtered by cause, time available and skills.
- Sparked focuses on micro-volunteering. Fill in a short form with the skills and causes that matter to you and you get regular emails with ways you can help. In as little as 5 minutes you can make a tangible difference to a not for profit.
- The United Nations runs its own online volunteering platform which lists opportunities that can easily be filtered by time available, language, world region and skill.
- Communiteer is a new Australian social venture (currently in pilot) which matches skilled volunteers to short-term projects and also allows team collaboration.
For those that want a longer commitment, combined with adventure, skilled volunteering overseas can be a great option.
The most well established program for Australians is the government-funded Australian Volunteers. It funds skilled volunteers for mostly longer-term (6-18 months) projects overseas. Generally your airfares and visas are paid and you receive a living wage so you don’t come home out of pocket. While Australian Volunteers offers roles for people with a range of different experience Australian Business Volunteers focuses on more senior roles. ABV is currently undergoing a bit of a renaissance so doesn’t have any roles available right now, but says it will soon.
There are a wide range of different companies that can help you sort out a volunteer experience from specialists like IVI Volunteers or GVI Volunteers to gap-year-style companies like Real Gap Experience which don’t just cater for twenty-somethings, but people of all ages who want to combine a holiday with doing something more rewarding.
Please drop me an email to let me know if the guide was helpful, or if you can suggest any improvements.
Jake, Co-Founder of Full Time Lives