Volunteering can be a rewarding and enriching experience. It allows you to see a different side of life, and can introduce you to new cultures and different ways of doing things. But it can also be a disastrous experience if you are not truly cut out for what comes with the volunteering experience.
How do I know it is right for me?
You may be considering volunteering during your gap year, or before you enter the corporate world. While this can be an exciting experience, to find out if it is right for you, there are some considerations to take into account before you take the plunge into volunteering.
Do you have a charity in mind?
This is the very first step you need to take: deciding on a charity you want to volunteer for. If you are an animal lover, you could choose your local SPCA or animal shelter. For those who want to study medicine or who have graduated from medical school and want to do something meaningful, Medécins Sans Frontières is a good choice. It is important to note that organisations such as MSF have strict guidelines for volunteers looking to work in the field, so you should research these before making a decision.
Know what you want to get out of it
This can seem slightly counterintuitive to volunteer work – after all, charities are about giving, right? However, it is important to know what you want to get out of the experience. If you are planning on volunteering your time, you should ask yourself if you want to gain hands-on experience in an industry you would like to work in, or whether you simply want to learn more about the cause and get to know people. Knowing what you want to achieve by volunteering will help you decide on a charity or organisation to give to.
Ask others about their experiences
Finding out about how others viewed their experience at a particular charity or organisation will help you decide on one that is right for you. Also finding out why they have volunteered or continue to volunteer will help to answer the question of what you want to get out of the experience. If possible, ask if you are able to go with them to their next session to see what the charity is about and what you can expect from the experience. Tapping into your network will give you valuable insights into what is out there for you to choose from.
What kind of experience does the charity require?
Some volunteer programmes or charitable organisations do not have strict requirements, and are happy for any help they can get. However, those with programs that involve medical help or field work usually have experience requirements for their volunteers. If you are a taking a gap year and have little to no working experience, this type of organisation is not suitable to your experience levels, but if you have graduated and are looking for a meaningful way to spend time before looking for work, you are more likely what they are looking for.
Know what you want to give
One issue that many charities and volunteer programs have is that volunteers often come in not knowing how they want to contribute. While enthusiasm is fantastic, not knowing how or what you want to contribute can make your experience rather disappointing. It is best to use your strengths when offering your time, such as writers helping with social media campaigns and email marketing, or sales people canvassing the streets for donations. Have a clear idea of what you want to give in mind before volunteering to make it easier to be placed in a programme suited to your strengths.
How much time can you commit?
This is an important question to ask yourself, because some organisations require you to be available for up to six months. If you are not able to commit to this, you should reconsider your chosen charity. Students who are looking to volunteer for the holidays, you will need to carefully assess your schedule to see whether you can truly dedicate your time to being on call for a charity on a daily basis.
Final verdict
If you want to volunteer for a cause, it is vital to consider whether or not you can truly give up your time in a meaningful manner. Often, volunteers get difficult work for little to no pay, but because it is for a cause that is close to their hearts, they continue to give their time. Do not feel intimidated or like a lesser person if you cannot do as much as others – every little bit helps.