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Hints and tips on how to get started with volunteering

One of the national initiatives that took place over the Coronation weekend was The Big Help Out on Monday 8h May. An estimated 6 million people took part that day in lending a hand in their communities and experiencing how satisfying volunteering can be.

Volunteering not only has the power to make positive changes in other peoples’ lives and the community, it can also enhance the lives of those volunteering. According to the NCVO ( National Council for Voluntary Organisations) 73% of volunteers say that getting involved in volunteering has given them more confidence. It is also a great way to meet new people and gain new skills and experience.

Around 7 million people are now more likely to volunteer as a result of experiencing The Big Help Out in action on 8th May. But if you do want to volunteer, where do you start? Many of us are wary of having to commit too much time and effort in the midst of our busy lives, so is it possible just to do a bit of volunteering occasionally without getting swamped? 

In this article we look at how to get started with volunteering, and the kinds of opportunities that are open to you. Here are five steps to follow:


Work out what causes you feel strongly about

Before you sign up to any kind of volunteering, have a good think about the causes you feel strongly about. For example, are you passionate about helping animals, children, isolated or struggling people in the community, your local hospice, medical research, international aid, the environment or any of the many other causes that need help and support.

You will be more likely to stick to your volunteering if you find a cause to support that you can really identify with and want to help make a difference.


Be realistic about how much you can offer

Also consider how much time you are willing to give, and what current skills you have to offer. 

In terms of time, there are no rights and wrongs here. Whether it’s a couple of hours every week, a Saturday once a month, or a week once a year, you need to be realistic about what will work for you. Once you make a decision you are comfortable with, you can use that as a factor in helping you find the right opportunity for you.

Also think about the skills you want to offer. For example, if you are a professional such as an accountant, lawyer or teacher, do you want to bring those skills into your volunteering? Or do you want your volunteering to be doing something totally different for a complete change? Again, you have to decide what is best for you, and what kind of help you are willing to offer in a voluntary capacity.


Research possible opportunities

There are several ways that you can narrow down the opportunities available:

  • Your local volunteer centre

Volunteer centres are local organisations that provide support to community organisations and volunteers. They are a good place to start looking for volunteering opportunities in the local area, and can provide help and advice about suitable volunteering roles for you. 

NCVO has a map of volunteer centres here.

  • Online volunteer databases

There are several websites that have databases of volunteering opportunities. These include:

  • Do-IT : a database of over a million UK volunteering opportunities. 
  • Charity Job : the main UK specialised job board for the voluntary sector, with both paid and voluntary roles.
  • Reach : skill-based volunteer and trustee opportunities, both short and long-term.
  • Vinspired : volunteering opportunities for young people aged between 14 and 30.
  • Volunteering Matters : community volunteering projects needing all kinds of volunteering.
  • Personal research

Both the above avenues are really good ways to find the volunteering opportunity for you, but you can also use your own networks and research. For example, if you have family or friends who are either volunteering now or have done so in the past, they may be able to tell you more about their experiences and put you in touch with others who can help. 

Also, if you have particular charities or organisations you would like to support, it may be worth contacting them directly to see if there are opportunities available. You could either do this online or drop in to a local branch or charity shop if there is one. By being proactive, you may just unearth the right opportunity for you.


Make contact with the right people

When you have found an opportunity that looks like a good fit for you, the next step is to make contact with the right people. For example, if you are using an online database there will usually be a way of either applying for the position or getting in touch with the organisation to find out more information. If you are interested, even if you are not 100% sure, this is the next step to take. And if you are really confident that this is the right opportunity for you, don’t be afraid to be proactive and make it happen.


Get stuck in!

Once you have found the right volunteering opportunity for you, and turn up for your first shift or meeting, it’s up to you to make the most of it!

Be prepared to get stuck in with whatever you are asked to do and remember to ask as many questions as you need to. Even if everyone else seems really busy, the sooner you can learn and understand what to do, the sooner you will be able to make an impact yourself and share the load.

Also – as with anything new – give it time. After your first session you may feel tired, disappointed or disillusioned. Perhaps you had an expectation in mind of what it was going to be like, only to find that it wasn’t quite the case. But keep at it, and as you become a more valued member of the team, you may find yourself in a position to start making small changes to the way things are done, and perhaps improve things for everyone else.


We hope that the above information helps you to get started with volunteering if it is something you want to do. Good luck!

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