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In a previous post I wrote about the benefits of volunteering as practical Work Experience for people wanting Career Change. The next step is finding a Volunteering option that is right for you. While Volunteering is a great way of giving something back, its important to be strategic about what you’re trying to achieve.

The major advantage of Volunteering, is the development of more transferable skills. These are skills you can learn as a Volunteer, but which you can transfer into the rest of your career. Transferable skills are crucial for building a long term Career strategy, and the more of them you can accumulate the better.

It is very rare that somebody will find their “Perfect Job” straight away. Many people either start at the bottom, or try out a few jobs until they find the right one. Being in a job that isn’t perfect is very frustrating, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use the time well. One of the best ways to gain relevant, valuable, experience for your next career move is to Volunteer.

The most important thing about volunteering  is finding the right ‘fit’ between you and your needs, and an organisation and their needs. For Volunteering to work it is imperative you choose a project and organisation that can work for you. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before choosing a Volunteering Opportunity.

What skill do I want to learn from this Volunteering Experience?

Firstly be honest with yourself about what you need from the experience. If, for example, you have a Business and Accounts qualification, but you’re currently working in hospitality, perhaps you need to look at an activity that might increase your financial skills.

Perhaps your background is in Events but you’re working in admin, you might need to get more on-the-ground Event experience.

ultimately-whatever-skill-you-are-missing-identify-that-skill-or-expertise-first-then-look-for-the-relevant-opportunityMaybe your qualification is in HR, but you’re working in a shop, perhaps dealing with volunteers may teach you valuable insights about working with a team.

Begin with the End in Mind

Ultimately, whatever you are missing, identify that skill or expertise first, then look for the relevant opportunity. Too many people do this the other way around and eventually end up feeling like the experience has no point to it. They become deflated and disillusioned with the process. Remember there is nothing wrong with wanting to get something from the experience, as long as it’s a reasonable, communicated expectation.

What will it ‘cost’ and how much can I spare?

Next be realistic with yourself, how much time and money you can spare on volunteering. Too many people over-estimate how much free time they actually have. Then there’s the reality of when the organisation needs you. There is no point you having weekends free when they need you weeknights.

Sit down, have a look at your schedule and decide honestly what time you can spare. Also make a note of how much money you can spare. You should consider in advance if you will need travel costs, meals, or even phone credit to have an accurate overview of what you can spare.

Most Volunteering outfits don’t expect long-term Volunteering involvement. Many of them offer time specific, project based options so there really is something for everyone. You need to be really honest with yourself about what you’re prepared to spend, both time and money, then balance that against the potential return.

Where to find a Volunteering Opportunities on-line

Once you have your needs identified and your resources, you can then begin to look for the right organisation. The best place to start is on-line.

If you have no ideas at all, the One Percent Difference campaign is a great place to start. The first section talks about donating money, but the second section does a little test and recommends some causes based on your responses. It’s the most comprehensive database of organisations I’ve come across so far and its very easy to navigate.

whatdoyouwantAnother great website is Active Links. They list not-for-profit tenders, vacancies and also volunteering opportunities, which are updated regularly. Active Link have been around a long time and you’d be very surprised at some of the opportunities that pop up. Its always good to check in regularly.

If you are looking for event experience Event Volunteers should be your first stop. They work on a National Level as a not-for-profit and do amazing events like Summer Festivals, Sporting Events, St Patricks Day Parade and loads more. They provide great training and a very professional experience, which is not always guaranteed in the Events industry.

Another online resource that’s really good is the Volunteer Ireland resource. You can search for opportunities by location and by cause, which is great for narrowing down options. The website is updated regularly with current opportunities so check back whenever you need.

Other ways of finding opportunities

The internet is great for searching and researching, but it can be a little overwhelming trying to decide whats right for you. Each Voluntary organisation is very different, not just their aims and objectives, but also how they’re run.

I have gotten some of my ‘best fit’ options the old-fashioned way; personal recommendations. Asking can I tag along to someone else’s gig and seeing if I like it. Also I always make it clear to people that I like to try new things. I got working with a great start-up a few years back because my Mam had volunteered me to her friends nephew. Letting people know you’re keen to try something new never does any harm. I got another experience by posting on my Linked In that I was looking for new Volunteering Opportunities. Someone recommended me to a not-for-profit looking for a Trainer and I have been volunteering with them for the last 4 years.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be a voluntary organisation for you to count as a volunteer. Volunteering with business organisations can be hugely beneficial for your next career move, so don’t rule that out. Start-ups in particular can be a great way to get good business, finance and marketing experience.

Final things to consider

Before you choose an organisation you should have your list of the following:

  • How much time you can spare
  • When you can spare it
  • How long are you willing to commit
  • What transferable skills are you hoping to learn
  • What other things are you hoping to get from volunteering, (like making new friends etc)

Then you should have a matrix of the potential Voluntary posts available paying particular attention to:

  • The ethos of the opportunity, (is it in animal welfare, youth engagement etc)
  • The location/ease of access
  • The role being offered
  • The times and duration requested
  • Feedback from other volunteers (if available).

Once you have these two lists you should be able to produce a matrix that should make it very easy for you to rank and choose the best option for you. If you haven’t a simple favourite it may be worth checking out your top 2 options until you can choose a favourite.

Volunteering is amazing but its important that you get as much from it as the organisation you’re volunteering for.

As always if you have any experience you’d like to add I’d love to hear it 🙂

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