I want to volunteer
Want to volunteer but not sure if you have the time or if it will affect your benefits? Mark Restall, a Senior Information Officer at Volunteering England, answers your most common questions about volunteering.
What do volunteers do?
Almost anything. You can volunteer to rescue people from mountains, farm organically, build houses, write a magazine, or fix computers. There are organisations out there you can join that cater for every interest and minority group imaginable.
I want to volunteer – what do I do next?
You can either:
- Search Do-it’s online database of volunteering opportunities
- Get in touch with your nearest local volunteer centre.
Consider which organisation you would like to work for, the topics you’re passionate about, how much time you have to give, what skills you have to offer and what skills you want to learn before choosing an opportunity.
Can I ask for expenses?
Yes, you can. It’s a good idea for organisations to cover all your extra expenses. That includes the cost of travelling to the volunteering and meals while volunteering. Unfortunately not all organisations do pay expenses. This could be because they don’t have enough funds or they don’t realise that volunteers should be paid expenses.
How much time do I need to spend volunteering?
This is really up to you. You can volunteer at any time of the week, day or night. You can find volunteering that only takes an hour a month – there’s a trend towards short-term volunteering requiring minimal commitment.
I’m working full-time. Will I still be able to volunteer?
Yes, there are many opportunities to volunteer that do not require you to be available Monday to Friday during the day. Many organisations would love to find volunteers that are able to volunteer evenings and/or weekends.
Some examples of out of office hours volunteering include: campaigning, the Samaritans or other helplines, working with homeless people, befriending, environmental and sports activities.
It is important to check out what time commitment the organisation has in mind. You will need to work out how many hours you can offer and for how long you wish to volunteer.
Will I be interviewed?
Most organisations will probably not formally interview you but they will probably want to have an informal chat. However, if the role has some responsibility, for instance, working with money, the interview may be more formal. In either case this gives you and the organisation a chance to assess each other and an opportunity to ask questions.
You can ask them anything that you feel unsure about. You may want to check some or all of the following:
- Whether your expenses will be reimbursed
- What opportunities exist for training or gaining qualifications
- What variety there will be in the work
- If you will have support or supervision
- How volunteering may affect your benefits, if you are claiming
You may also be required to complete an application form and in some cases provide references.
Will I get training?
You need to ask your organisation this, as it varies a lot. Some organisations offer substantial training and support, but others don’t and expect you to learn on the job or contribute existing skills.
It also depends on the type of work you will be doing. So if you’re spending one day clearing overgrowth from paths, expect a short explanation. But if you volunteer to give welfare benefits advice you should get much more training.
Do I need qualifications?
Usually you don’t. Some very skilled work may demand qualifications, but usually organisations offer training to enable you to do the work.
Can I get a qualification?
It’s becoming more common for organisations to offer volunteer qualifications such as an NVQ, but it is still unusual. You may well learn a lot and gain valuable experience, skills and a reference though. If you do need a formal qualification, ask at the interview, or contact your local volunteer bureau as they may know if any other local organisations offer qualifications.
Can I volunteer with my family or friends?
Yes you can but you won’t have such a large choice. Some volunteering is usually done in groups, so two or more people could easily join together e.g. practical conservation and fundraising.
Can I claim benefits while volunteering like JSA?
You can volunteer for as many hours as you like while you’re claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), as long as you are still actively seeking work and you aren’t legally obliged to volunteer. If any potential jobs that you’re suitable for come up, you will need to prioritise them over your voluntary work. This means you can’t turn down suitable paid work because of your volunteering commitments. In practical terms, this means you must be free to go to an interview if they give you 48 hours’ notice.
Can I volunteer full-time and get living expenses?
You can, but only under certain circumstances. Most residential voluntary work offers board, lodging and some form of pocket money. This work can be for a week or two or a whole year.
I want to be a social worker. How can I get experience?
Volunteering can be an excellent way of gaining experience in social work or working with vulnerable people. Community Service Volunteers (CSV) place volunteers with social service departments and in other personal care roles.
Some Social Services departments take on volunteers, but you’ll have to contact them directly. There are also many other organisations working in the health and social care field that involve volunteers in front line roles, for example hospitals, hospices, and organisations for disabled people.
Can I leave if I don’t like it?
Yes, of course. You are under no real obligation to keep volunteering for an organisation you’re unhappy in. However, it is always worth talking to somebody about this first. This could be your volunteer co-ordinator (if there is one), your supervisor or someone who you have got on well with. You can then discuss with them why you feel unhappy and what you feel would improve your time as a volunteer in the organisation.
If you feel that something is seriously wrong or someone is treating you badly it is also worth checking whether your organisation has a complaints procedure.
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Updated on 29-Sep-2015
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