Whilst it’s true that volunteering isn’t the same as paid employment it doesn’t mean that it isn’t without its benefits – for you and the organisation you volunteer for.
Here are our ideas regarding what you should know about volunteering.
The idea is simple. By volunteering you give your time and perhaps even apply appropriate skills towards helping an organisation with specific aims and objectives (not dissimilar to an employer) – although the aims are likely to be more philanthropic than commercial.
Typically, volunteers pitch in for good causes such as charities or not-for-profit organisations and the like. Volunteering is not the same as unpaid work. (This is an important definition if you are claiming benefits, see later.)
Volunteering is not a ‘one way street’ where the benefits are driven in just one direction. Ideally, everybody wins.
The organisation or charity gets your time, energy, skills and enthusiasm to devote towards their projects and in return, the volunteer receives other benefits instead of money (or other forms of remuneration).
Volunteers often comment that they want to volunteer irrespective of rewards and regard the return benefits as a bonus, citing being able to add their experiences to their CVs as amongst the most practical. Indeed volunteering can vest an individual with skills favoured by employers such as people skills, teamwork and leadership – and more specifically, depending on the nature of the volunteering project, things like retail experience, stock handling, manual proficiencies and so on. Suddenly the tricky ‘What experience have you got?’ interview question doesn’t seem so challenging in light of all you’ve achieved.
Some volunteering projects can provide you with certificates to show potential employers and there are sometimes opportunities to gain qualifications as part of your training etc.
References are usually well-regarded when they relate to volunteering since they reflect commitment and passion – two things that employers love to see in their employees.
Volunteering can be scaled to suit capability and ambitions. Whilst you may not be able to take on vast responsibilities, at least to start with, you could definitely be involved with fundraising, through ‘tin shaking’ or other small but necessary jobs that need doing and go from there.
Volunteering is a great way to learn and develop life skills, from making your way to the place where you volunteer, through to working with people and then handling money or information.
Ideally, you’ll also be volunteering for an organisation you have a passion for. It might be because the thing they campaign for or work towards is close to your heart – and on tough days this will keep you going. There’s a lot to be said for gaining satisfaction from doing something that will ultimately provide good outcomes for other people. Hopefully, you’ll have a bit of fun along the way too.
Positive things happen to positive people and this is generally the case with volunteers. Satisfaction and wellbeing go hand-in-hand. Even under trying circumstances when you’re faced with a difficult project the satisfaction of achieving something towards a larger positive outcome is enormous and is all the ‘feelgood’ you need.
It’s relatively rare to find a solo volunteering project unless you happen to be doing something that’s home-based such as baking etc. Because you’re working with others, volunteering is a great way to meet new (like-minded) people and form friendships and extend your social circle.
Depending on the style of projects your involved in, it’s also true that nothing beats ‘keeping going’ to help you ‘keep going’. In other words, because you commit to getting to your voluntary placement on a regular basis you’ll be keeping mind and body active – a great indicator towards better health and wellbeing.
Whoever you ask about volunteering placements is likely to be enthusiastic but they’ll also be interested in getting the best value out of you in terms of time and skills. With this in mind it’s sensible to think about how much commitment you can give and when. Whilst this won’t be a contract as such, it means that you can be slotted in to the volunteering roster properly. Also think about any skills you have either generally or specifically that might be useful to the organisation such as manual skills and the like. This could be valuable to the organisation who may not then need to pay for a specialist to come out and fix something, for example, if you can do it for free.
Selecting an opportunity
You may already know of a local organisation or scheme that you’d like to join or have an idea of the type of volunteering you’d like to do, such as working with animals, outdoors or in a charity shop etc. The volunteering organisations at the end of this feature can give you details of projects near you.
As well as time and skills, you should also make clear that sometimes your plans can be interrupted by episodes when you might not be fit enough to work. This is unlikely to deter organisations from offering volunteering placements but may mean that they’re able to find lighter duties that suit you better.
What if I’m on benefits?
As mentioned, volunteering can help when people come to apply for jobs. It makes sense then that the Government encourage people to volunteer without jeopardising their benefits. There are, though, a few rules to consider.
Volunteers can do as many hours as they want to whilst receiving benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance but will still be required to be looking for paid work. This means that they must be available to go for an interview if given 48 hours notice and be able to start work within one week of notice.
You must not be paid money or anything else for volunteering. It’s OK to be paid your expenses but you need to declare what you get, so make sure you can get hold of your receipts. You must contact Jobcentre Plus if you want to do any volunteering. (You will be asked to fill in a simple form about the volunteering you want to do.)
To contact Jobcentre Plus, visit: www.direct.gov.uk
You can still get Carer’s Allowance if you take part in volunteering in the UK and care for a disabled person for at least 35 hours a week. If your volunteering takes you abroad for over four weeks, it could affect your Carer’s Allowance.
Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance
Volunteering in the UK won’t affect your Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance. (Volunteering abroad for less than six months won’t affect your Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance – but if you want to volunteer abroad, tell the Disability and Carers Service.)
Incapacity Benefit or Income Support
You can still be a volunteer and get Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Income Support as long as you can still go to a work-focused interview when asked to. Let Jobcentre Plus know before you start, and tell them about any expenses you may get.
Volunteering opportunities in Northern Ireland