Far from ‘working for free’, volunteering gives you the opportunity to make a positive impact on society, try out a new job or workplace, develop key skills, and meet like-minded people. It’ll also give you something super impressive to include on your CV, resume, cover letter or application. In this guide, we go through why volunteering is important and the most popular ways to volunteer locally, nationally, and beyond.
Let’s start with the benefits of being a volunteer:
- Volunteering placements often don’t require any experience so you get the chance to try something new and build your skills ready to apply for a job, college, or university applications.
- It’s often easier to find volunteering opportunities than jobs or work experience placements due to funding and rules surrounding young workers, and the experiences you’ll get will be very similar.
- You often get given free training to help you excel in your role.
- Volunteering is a great way to network and build contacts to help you in the future.
And the benefits for organisations are equally as strong:
- Volunteer-led organisations are not always well funded, so they rely on their volunteers giving up their time for free to support them and make sure their good work is done.
- Organisations get to build a network of local, national, or international individuals who support their cause and will spread the message about their work.
- Having a pool of volunteers who are given specific training and guidance, and who show their dedication through working without being paid are often on the radar when organisations need to hire new full time, paid members of staff.
So it works for everyone! Now that you’re convinced volunteering is for you, let’s go through some popular volunteering opportunities that are quite common around the world. Remember to speak with your school/college careers department for more ideas, and to use the links at the bottom of the guide to find local opportunities.
You don’t have to volunteer in the industry you’d like to go into in the future, but we’ve listed related job sectors for each opportunity in case that is what you’re looking for.
Volunteer at your local library
- Libraries are great places to volunteer. You could be helping run story sessions for young children, getting involved in events, or helping out with the day to day admin of running a library. You can do this any time of year, but keep an eye out during school holidays for special events that you can get involved with.
- Ideal for those interested in: education, publishing, or administration.
Volunteer at your local youth centre or summer camp
- Youth clubs, youth centres, and camps are always on the lookout for teenagers and young adults to help out. You could be doing anything from planning and running activity sessions, to working in the kitchens, to caring for campers overnight. Youth clubs tend to have weekly sessions that you can volunteer at, while camps are only run during school holidays.
- Ideal for those interested in: education, sport, working outdoors, childcare, or healthcare.
Write articles for a paper or blog
- Plenty of schools, colleges, and sixth forms have their own paper, blog, or newsletter, and they normally welcome entries from students - especially those who can express themselves clearly and have a strong command of spelling, punctuation and grammar. If your school doesn’t have one, try to set one up or try out your local town or city’s newspaper - if you can write well, age shouldn’t be a barrier! Start by sending them a speculative article about a topic or news event that interests you, and try to mimic the style of the other articles in their publication.
- Ideal for those interested in: writing, media, or publishing and journalism.
Help out at a hospital, nursing home or residential home
- Hospitals, nursing homes, and residential homes are often looking for volunteers. You could be befriending patients or residents, helping in the kitchen, working in the gift shop or office, or directing visitors. If you choose a hospital, you may even be able to volunteer on different wards to get a feel for working with different types of patients.
- Ideal for those interested in: nursing, medicine, adult care, or health and social care.
Feed people at a soup kitchen
- Some soup kitchens serve meals up to twice a day so are always in need of servers, cleaners, and dishwashers. They often have an influx of volunteers around Christmas time, so if you want to get involved, apply to volunteer at a different time of the year. Be aware though, that some soup kitchens have age restrictions due to local laws about teens working in kitchens - you still might be able to serve food or assist with set-up and clean-up, so get in touch with your local one to find out.
- Ideal for those interested in: catering, hospitality, or charities.
Build homes with Habitat for Humanity
- Habitat for Humanity offers international volunteer programmes - both short and long term - for people who’d like to help others to have a decent place to live. People all around the world come together to build decent, sustainable homes for those who don’t have somewhere safe or adequate to live. They have a number of opportunities specifically for those aged under 18, so get in touch with them to find out what’s currently on offer.
- Ideal for those interested in: construction, maintenance, engineering, architecture, travel, or charities.
Fight injustice with Amnesty International
- Amnesty International is a global organisation that fights injustice and promotes human rights. There are lots of ways you can volunteer for them, from joining a peaceful protest to raising money, and you could be working with them on everything from gun violence, the refugee crisis, the death penalty, national security, and the rights of women, LGBTQ+ people and indigenous communities.
- Ideal for those interested in: law, civil service, politics, NGOs, charities, education, or activism.
Help to save lives with the Red Cross
- There are Red Cross societies all over the world - not just in the U.K. and U.S.A. - and many have an entire youth section, called the Junior Red Cross, specifically for those under 18. You can help to organise a blood drive, become educated and ready for disaster relief, or train younger children in home safety. Visit the Red Cross website to find societies in your local area.
- Ideal for those interested in: emergency services, education, NGOs, or charities.
- There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer abroad if you’re aged 16 or over. As well as giving you an insight into an entirely different culture, you’ll have the opportunity to directly change people’s lives for the better. You could teach, build homes or dams, take care of animals, look after the elderly, or support refugees. Keep in mind, however, that these opportunities are rarely free, and you will be expected to pay for your own transport and accommodation (although these, together with general living costs, are usually included in the total cost of the placement).
- Ideal for those interested in: social studies, anthropology, education, care services, or construction.
Whatever you choose to do, keep a record of your activities and skills using the Activities and Competencies tools on Unifrog. You should also update your CV, and ask your volunteer manager if you can use them as a referee in the future.
Good stuff from elsewhere
UK Government volunteering
Find out how you can get involved in volunteering in the UK.