Frequently Asked Questions
Can I volunteer?
Anyone can volunteer. People already in employment, full-time or part-time, refugees, retired people, students, unemployed people and anyone else not mentioned here. Volunteering is for everyone.
I’m under 18 – can I volunteer?
Young people can volunteer in some organisations, although 16-17 year olds have more roles open to their age group.
You can still volunteer with a parent’s or guardian’s consent, but difficulties with insurance means that only a very few organisations take on volunteers who are under 16. Your options?
- Some volunteer roles are open to 13 – 15 year olds – if you’re unsure, just ask!
- Talk to your school about helping you get into volunteering – there may be roles you don’t know about, or the school might be able to develop a role for you
- With the help of a parent or guardian, contact local community centres, youth groups or churches to see if they run activities that you could get involved with.
I’m working full-time – can I still volunteer?
Yes, there are roles that run evenings & weekends. For example: campaigning, fundraising, staffing helplines, trusteeships, befriending, working on environmental projects or sports activities.
I’ve got a criminal conviction – can I volunteer?
You can, and many people with criminal convictions do. It all depends on the nature of your conviction, how recent it was, the kind of voluntary role you are interested in and the organisation where you wish to volunteer. Contact Us for more information and advice.
Can I claim benefits whilst volunteering?
Yes you can. Volunteering is recognised as giving you a better chance of finding paid work. You can volunteer as many hours as you like while you are on benefits, as long as you still meet the terms for getting them. If you are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance you need to be:
- actively looking for work
- willing to stop volunteering if you get a job (you must be free to start a job with one weeks notice)
It is always a good idea to discuss your volunteering with your benefit agency so they are in the picture. Ask your adviser for the ‘Vol work 1’ form, which it is a good idea to complete.
Can volunteering lead to paid employment?
Volunteering can really help you get a job – but not always as quickly as you’d like. To get the most out of volunteering it helps to have realistic expectations.
If you take on a volunteer role, and are committed, you will get huge benefits. For example you can:
- Keep your skills fresh
- Get new skills and experience
- Transform your CV
- Increase your confidence levels
- Get references
The experiences you gain through volunteering will really help when you come to complete job applications and do interviews. But of course you will still have to apply and compete for any job. You may or may not get the first job you apply for, but you will be on the road to getting paid work.
To get the most out of your volunteering, it helps to think beforehand about what you would like to gain, such as particular skills or experience.
And, volunteering should be something you actively want to do. To put it another way, you shouldn’t be volunteered – but you might want to volunteer!
Can I volunteer together with my family or friends?
Yes you can, but the choice of roles will not be as varied, because often organisations are looking to fill one volunteer vacancy. However, some volunteering is done in groups and two or more people can easily join together. Examples are practical conservation and fund raising and one-off events.
Will I be interviewed?
Most organisations don’t ask you to a formal interview before they take you on as a volunteer, but they will probably invite you in for an informal chat. If the role involves some responsibility (for instance handling money) or if you will be working with people, or with specialist equipment, the interview may be more formal. In either case this initial meeting gives you, and the organisation, a chance to get to know one another.
The sort of questions the organisation will probably want to ask you will vary from one organisation to another and will depend on the type of voluntary work you are interested in. However, a typical interviewer (formal or informal) may ask any of the following:
- why you are interested in volunteering
- what sort of voluntary work are you interested in
- how much time can you offer
- what experience you have
- what new skills you would like to learn through your volunteer work.
You can ask them anything that you feel unsure about. You may want to check some or all of the following:
- how and when will my expenses be reimbursed
- what variety there will be in the voluntary work I do
- what type of training will I have to do the role
- what support or supervision will I get – will there be someone to talk to regularly about how I’m getting on
An informal chat or interview can also give you an opportunity to look at where you will be volunteering and meet some of the other staff and volunteers. You may also be required to complete an application or registration form and in some cases provide references.
When can I start?
It can take a little while for an organisation to get back to you after an initial enquiry. Don’t lose heart! It is probably because they are overstretched and understaffed. Contact them again, if you hear nothing after two weeks. Then the application and recruitment process may take a few weeks. One thing that often takes the most time is the police check (DBS Check), though not all voluntary roles require one. Ask if there are any tasks that you can do whilst you are waiting for the CRB check to come through.
Will my expenses be paid?
Yes, they should be. It’s good practice for organisations to cover any expenses that you incur as a result of volunteering. They should cover the cost of travelling to and from the volunteering. Ideally, lunch expenses should also be covered, if you volunteer for more than 6 hours.
We prefer for all organisations advertising with us to pay expenses, with some exceptions such as for small volunteer led groups without paid staff. Before you start volunteering, ask if your expenses will be paid. Very few charities have the funds to pay childcare expenses, but you can ask about these too.
If you have difficulties getting your travel expenses paid, contact us for advice.
How much time do I need to volunteer for?
This depends on you and the nature of the role you’re interested in. You can find volunteering that takes only an hour a month. However, the less time you have the harder it can be to find something that’s right for you, or something that you can get your teeth into!
You can volunteer at any time of the week. While a lot of volunteering takes place during office hours, you can volunteer at evenings and weekends too, again depending on what you want to do. Typical volunteering out of office hours includes befriending, campaigning, helplines, environmental projects, sports and being a member of an organisation’s management committee or Trustee Board.
Search online through our database of voluntary roles – where you can select exactly what times you will be available.
Can I leave if I don’t like it?
Yes, of course. You are under no obligation to keep volunteering for an organisation if for any reason you don’t like the volunteering you are doing.
However, it is always worth talking to somebody before leaving as it might be possible to address and solve whatever is making you unhappy and this might mean you no longer feel you want to leave. Also, if you’re experiencing a problem others might too. By raising a problem you might improve the situation for everyone.
The person to talk to is your volunteer co-ordinator (if there is one), your supervisor or the person in the organisation responsible for you, or someone you have got on well with. You can then discuss the reasons why you feel unhappy and what you feel would improve things for you as a volunteer in the organisation.
It is also something you may want to talk about with other volunteers in the organisation. You could either do this informally, or if your organisation has a Volunteers Council or a regular meeting that all volunteers attend, you could bring up your problem there.
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.
If you would like advice or support with raising issues that concern you as a volunteer, please contact us.
What do volunteers do?
Almost anything you want to do or can think of! You can volunteer to rescue people from mountains, to farm organically, write a magazine, serve as a magistrate, coach a youth football team, walk an older person’s dog, support troubled young people, drive a mini bus – there are organisations that cater for almost every interest.
Do I need particular skills to volunteer?
It depends on the voluntary role. Often no particular skill is required. If a skill is needed this should be made clear in the task profile when you contact the organisation.
Do I need qualifications?
Usually you don’t. Some very skilled work may require qualifications, but usually organisations offer training to enable you to do the voluntary work they require.
Will I be trained to do the role?
Yes, you will be trained. The amount of training offered depends on the type of work you will be doing. If you’re spending one day clearing overgrown 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 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 can ask about training when you get in touch with an organisation about volunteering. It varies a lot. Some organisations offer substantial training and support, others don’t and expect you to learn as you go along or to use existing skills.
Can I get a qualification through volunteering?
It’s becoming more common for organisations to offer volunteers qualifications such as an NVQ, but it is still unusual. This does not mean you will not learn a lot and gain valuable experience and skills, which you can include on your CV. Volunteering can also provide you with a reference if you are applying for jobs. If you do need a formal qualification, ask at interview, or contact us, as we may know if local organisations are offering qualifications.
Can I get social work experience?
Some Social Services departments take on volunteers, but you’ll have to contact them directly.
There are many organisations working in the health and social care field that involve volunteers in frontline care roles, for example hospitals, hospices, and organisations of and for disabled people.
Can I volunteer full-time and get living expenses?
How can I volunteer overseas?
There are two types of overseas volunteering:
- For at least a year
Aimed at people with professional skills in demand for overseas development, for example medicine or construction. Such volunteers typically receive flights, accommodation and a local wage. The aim is usually to pass on skills so local people are more self-sufficient when the placement ends.
- For up to a year
Volunteering for anything from a few weeks to a year by people without relevant professional skills. For this type of volunteering you will usually have to fundraise a substantial amount, perhaps as much as £2,000, though some projects are cheaper. In return you take part in what many see as an exciting chance to experience something completely different and gain an understanding of another culture.
For both types of volunteering it is best to apply well in advance. There are well over 100 British organisations specialising in arranging overseas volunteering offering a choice of either a particular country or type of work. Volunteering England has an information sheet on overseas volunteering.
Thank you to Voluntary Action Sheffield for sharing their volunteering information with us to help create this page and our volunteering guide!
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