Volunteer work: What it is and how to find it

You’ve no doubt heard lecturers promoting it, but what is volunteering really about?
Brianne Turk
Brianne Turk
Team GradAustralia
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Not just an activity for financially secure or retirees, volunteer work is becoming increasingly popular for students and grads alike. And for good reason. Providing a tonne of career benefits, and being viewed so favourably by potential employers, it’s time to give volunteering some serious consideration.

What is it?

Volunteering is providing help or a service to a person or organisation for no financial gain. The person who offers their time is a volunteer.

Why should I get involved?

For so many reasons!

People volunteer because it gives them an outlet to express an interest or passion, or to feel a sense of connection to their community. It’s a sure-fire way to meet like-minded people and make friends, and it provides great work-life balance. Of course, there’s also the ‘feel good’ aspect that most people experience when they know they’re helping someone out.

For students and grads alike, there’s a tonne of other reasons why volunteering is THE thing to do. It allows you to build career skills, stay engaged and make industry contacts all while gaining hands on work experience. It provides so many career benefits that we’ve put together ten reasons why smart grads volunteer here. Be sure to give it a read.

What volunteer roles exist?

Too many to name!

From designing web pages to fundraising for a local charity to providing social outings for community members with a disability, there are an abundance of volunteer roles in your community just waiting to be filled. You might like to:

  • Assist with a political campaign
  • Bookkeep for a local sports club
  • Phone counsel for organisations such as Helpline
  • Event co-ordinate for community arts, sports or emergency relief projects
  • Garden for an aged care facility
  • Provide administration support for a charity
  • Provide social support for people who are aging, ill or have a disability
  • Write for a community forum
  • Provide legal advice
  • Consult on start up ventures in your chosen field
  • Fundraise
  • Research for conservation projects

And the list goes on.

Why do organisations use volunteers?

The bottom line is that there’s more work to be done than money available to pay staff.  

Without volunteers, many not-for-profits simply wouldn’t have the funds to build their organisations to begin with, let alone continue carrying out their work. Having a volunteer base means that a greater percentage of the organisation’s profits can be used to directly support their mission (e.g. providing for disadvantaged children) rather than paying staff wages.

Organisations also use volunteers as a way to build community spirit and awareness, and to rally support.     

How much time do I need to give?

Whatever you can.

Every role requires a different time commitment, so you’re likely to find a position that works for you. While some volunteers are required for a 5 day camp 4 times a year, others are needed 2 days a week for 6 months. It varies greatly.

The great thing about organisations that host volunteers is that they often have the flexibility to work around your existing schedule. That said, organisations rely on their volunteers in order to operate effectively, so they do require your commitment and professionalism. Just like a paid job, you’re expected to be reliable and punctual.

How do I start searching for volunteer work?

There are two ways to approach searching for volunteer work.

1.    Search for a cause you are passionate about.

Looks for causes, charities or organisations that you feel passionately about and would like to be affiliated with, and then research in these areas. An example might be searching for animal welfare organisations in your city. If you don’t find volunteer positions currently available at these organisations, contact them directly and offer your services. Demonstrate how and why you would add value.

OR

2.    Search for a role that’ll teach you a specific skill that you’d like to master.

Think about your long term goals. What are your specific career goals? What dream role would you like to land? Now think about what skills and work experience you’d need to gain in order to get there. Once you’re clear on these details you can start looking for volunteer positions across different causes and organisations that offer these particular skill-building opportunities.

As a student hoping to use volunteer work as a stepping stone in your career, our suggestion would be to combine both of these methods. That is, look for a cause or organisation that excites you, that also allows you to build skills and experience that you know will be helpful to land your ideal future role.

But where do I look?

Everywhere!

Volunteering Australia is the national peak body for volunteering in Australia and they have volunteering centres all across the country. Your local centre would be a great place to have a face-to-face chat about the type of work you’re looking for, and find out what is currently available. You can find their locations at www.volunteeringaustralia.com.au.

There’s also a fantastic site www.govolunteer.com.au which allows you to search for volunteer opportunities nationally by cause, interest, availability, time commitment and more. This site allows you to search by both organisation and opportunity, and you’ll be blown away with the sheer volume of opportunities that exist.  

Govolunteer has also partnered with SEEK so that you can create a personalised volunteer profile. Not only can you share this profile with organisations, but volunteer opportunities are also recommended to you based on the skills and information that you’ve provided. How good is that!?

You can also find volunteer work through:

  • Local council (including their webpage and social media platforms)
  • Newspapers
  • Community centres and noticeboards
  • Researching specific causes on the internet
  • Contacting charities
  • Searching for volunteering + your location on the internet
  • Talking to friends and family in your community

Can I volunteer overseas?

Absolutely!

If you have a look online you’ll find a number of companies who act as agents, placing Australian volunteers in international programs. You’ll also find organisations who are recruiting international volunteers directly with various types of payment packages.

One of the biggest differences between local and international volunteering is that in Australia volunteers don’t usually incur out of pocket expenses. You won’t be paid a wage, but typically you’ll be reimbursed expenses, if there are any. Some organisations will also provide a uniform free of charge.

In contrast, a lot of international opportunities are run through programs where the volunteer makes a weekly or monthly payment which covers board, food, training, transport, 24hr emergency assistance, insurance etc. Flights are an added cost on top of this.

Many people turn their noses up at these costs (sometimes $1,000 a week) and instead choose to volunteer internationally with organisations who don’t have established training programs, who aren’t run through agents or who don’t provide accommodation, food and so forth. While many of these are legitimate organisations that provide wonderfully educational volunteer experiences, bare in mind that if you do go with one of these options, you’re doing so at your own risk. There might be no way to verify the validity of your program, or receive assistance if something were to go askew.

Lastly, be sure to weigh up how much it would cost to cover all of your own expenses, versus opting for a program with a weekly or monthly fee. The difference might not be as much as you’d think!

If international volunteering is your thing, a couple of great sites to have a look at are:

www.gviaustralia.com.au

www.maximonivel.com

www.volunteerhq.org

www.helpstay.com

www.movingworlds.org

www.freevolunteering.net

And if you’re still not sold on volunteering, don’t forget to check out Ten reasons why smart grads volunteer!