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Where to volunteer beyond the NHS in 2020

Volunteering: Give back and support your community

In times of crisis, there are always opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way that can help you in your future career aspirations. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have repercussions in everyday society, there is a growing need for unpaid assistance, but knowing where to volunteer is key.

The NHS has been inundated with offers of voluntary help, but where else can you be put to good use while experiencing downtime in your career? Read on to find out.

What you’ll learn in this article

What does it mean to be a volunteer?

Simply put, volunteering is to lend your skills to a cause for no payment. You don’t even need to be highly proficient to volunteer, as simple life skills can be enough to make a difference.

Besides supporting a certain cause you can also do volunteering at for-profit companies as a way to experiment with a new industry with no strings attached. 

What are the benefits of volunteering?

There are lots of positives to offering assistance without the promise of financial gain, including:

  • Gaining experience in a sector you might want to work in later
  • A sense of well-being and accomplishment
  • Making useful contacts
  • Putting your free time to productive use
  • Helping people less fortunate than yourself

What volunteer work can you do?

Volunteering: People cleaning up litter on grass

This all depends on what skills you have, experience you’ve gained in the employment world, your location and your interests. For example, if you are an animal lover and have free time during the week, you might want to contact a shelter to see if they need any extra dog walkers or kennel cleaners. If you have a driving licence, you might be able to help elderly people to get to the supermarket, or you could volunteer in a charity shop for a few hours a week.

There are countless ways to volunteer your time and endless organisations that rely on those kind-hearted enough to do so. 

What types of volunteering are there?

Different types of volunteering generally revolve around the number of hours you do them for or the frequency with which you commit. The most common options include:

  • One-off volunteering – This is when you respond to a specific need for one event or one occasion. A good example would be offering your time as a marshal for a charity run or race. These are typically annual and held on just one date, so you won’t be needed until the next year, if you wanted to take part again.
  • Short-term volunteering – If you want to volunteer in the short-term, you’ll be looking at between one and two weeks of your time, normally. This is typically perfect for students looking to fill their time in the summer break, although anybody is welcome to help with short-term projects. Popular opportunities include working at music festivals, where the atmosphere is considered payment enough. 
  • Long-term volunteering – Committing to a long-term voluntary position is more serious than the above examples, as it will usually involve developing relationships, and as such your options will become more varied. If you are looking to commit a regular number of hours to volunteering for the foreseeable future, you are in the market for a long-term option, such as manning a charity shop for a day a week.

How to find volunteering opportunities?

There are thousands of voluntary positions out there if you know where to look for them. Some are specific to certain areas of interest or experience and others are calling for general volunteers in a particular community. Some valuable resources for finding a role include:

OrganisationBest for
AdzunaA varied range of voluntary opportunities from a wide selection of sectors.
Do ItCommunity and care-based opportunities. There are many British Red Cross vacancies listed here.
Volunteering MattersAdvice, as well as links to regional opportunities.
National Association for Voluntary and Community ActionSocial action roles and emergency response positions.
NVCOFinding local voluntary organisations
Reach VolunteeringProfessionals with specific skills that could be useful to local communities
Volunteering WalesSpecific opportunities for Welsh communities, currently many programs are focusing on COVID-19 relief
Volunteer ScotlandSpecific opportunities for Scottish communities
Inspiring GovernanceAdvice about contributing to the running of a local school
Independent Monitoring BoardAdvice about volunteering to monitor prison standards. Training is provided. – Magistrate volunteeringAdvice and application for becoming an unpaid community magistrate.

Where to volunteer in the UK

We know that it’s unpaid, but what can you actually expect to do if you volunteer? What will your duties and responsibilities be? That all depends on where you donate your time. There are certain sectors and organisations that are always looking for more volunteers and their needs are widely understood. Consistent recruiters include:


Thank you NHS

Volunteer roles in the NHS are varied, interesting and rewarding. The rules state that you’ll need to be in good health, under 70 years of age and not currently pregnant to become a volunteer – and given that a lot of roles involve driving, you’ll need to be at least 18 as well.

From ‘check in and chat’ roles through to hospital visitor positions and equipment deliveries, there’s no end to the types of tasks you can agree to take on to make a contribution to your community. As long as you are reliable, not on a crime register and ready to help, you are a potential candidate.

Non-NHS hospitals

Non-NHS hospitals need the same types of volunteers as NHS ones, as the healthcare industry is always stretched. Whether you are able to commit to one hour or a few days a week, your help will always be needed, and if you have a special skill, so much the better. Children’s ward volunteers are especially sought after, so if you can perform or entertain, you are a valuable commodity.

As with volunteering for the NHS, these roles don’t guarantee you a better chance of success when applying for a paid position in a hospital setting, but they certainly don’t hurt, either. If you can demonstrate experience of being in a clinical setting, you will certainly be considered above those who have none at all.

Friendship volunteering

Friendship Volunteering

Mental health is important, but so often people can feel isolated and alone through no fault of their own, which is where friendship volunteering comes in. From speaking on the phone to checking in with people who struggle to leave their home to having coffee mornings or going shopping, there are plenty of ways to encourage vulnerable individuals to improve their situation and it all starts with friendship.

Food banks

Relied upon by an ever-growing number of people, food banks are stretched at the best of times, especially when you realise that they are manned exclusively by a team of volunteers. Needed to sort, allocate and pack donations, food-bank staff are the backbone of communities in need and are in constant demand. If you have transport, you could be even more useful, because emptying collection points (commonly found in supermarkets) is a vital part of the process.

Homeless shelters

Can you cook? Can you serve food? Then you are needed at homeless shelters. Feeding large numbers of people takes manpower and a strong team of volunteers, so even if you are only available for one evening a week, you can make a difference. Serving food and helping with the washing up throughout the year (not just at Christmas, when many shelters are inundated with one-off offers of help) is crucial.

Animal shelters

Volunteer at an animal shelter

Taking in unwanted animals is an expensive business, which is why shelters rely heavily on teams of volunteers. From fundraising to sorting donations and helping with the animal care, there are plenty of ways that your free time could make a real impact. If you’re active and a confident dog handler, helping with the daily walking could be a good option, but if you are more of an office bod, try lending your services to something like keeping the website up to date or social media channels populated. 

Volunteering for experience

There are plenty of sectors that look for volunteers that are keen to get a taste of what a position entails before pursuing it as a career. A few examples include:

  • Customer services – Telephone helpline volunteers are always sought after. Calls can be patched directly to your phone a lot of the time, so you don’t always need to leave the house to get experience in the sector.
  • Retail – Charity shops always need people to manage stock, create engaging displays and serve customers on the till, which can give you excellent experience ahead of a paid retail position.
  • Teaching – Community tutors and voluntary teaching assistants are a valuable resource, and if you are hoping to break into the education sector, these positions could be a stepping stone to success.
  • Care – If you can make time to help qualified care assistants, you could find yourself confirming a potential future career. Simple tasks such as making beds, helping patients get about and simply engaging with them all make an enormous difference to the quality of life that people in care enjoy, and can help you get ahead and find a paid role.
  • Marketing – Marketing is a competitive sector and anything you can do to stand out will be worth it, including taking an unpaid voluntary position. It’s a good way to get hands-on experience and a feel for what a future role could entail. In the right company, this can progress to a paid position.
  • IT – IT support staff will always be needed, but the marketplace can feel a little crowded. Taking on a voluntary position can give you great experience for your CV and keep you at the cutting edge while you wait for the right paid job to come around.

What qualities and skills should a volunteer have?

Volunteer at a homeless shelter

While many voluntary positions are centred around giving back to the community and social care, there are far more options than that to choose from, so if you don’t consider yourself humanitarian of the year, you can still find a suitable role. 

In essence, those that a good employee has! Reliability, good communication skills, a proactive nature and focus will all be vital for a volunteer, but with extra interpersonal abilities if the position will involve vulnerable people, too.

Just because volunteering doesn’t result in a wage, it doesn’t mean that you should put in less effort. You will still be a valued and needed member of a wider team, so commitment is key.

How to apply for a volunteer job?

Just as you would a regular job. You’ll need to fill out an application form, listing your work and educational experience, a personal statement will usually be required, too, and from there, you should expect to attend an interview if you are a suitable candidate. 

Do you need a CV for volunteering?

Usually, yes. Try to get in the mindset of thinking of voluntary positions as regular jobs. The people you are applying to will want to see evidence of any previous experience and relevant skills and a CV is a simple way to collate a lot of information in one place.

💡 Read more: How to create the perfect CV

Does volunteering look good on a CV?

Of course! It demonstrates that you have been proactive about filling your spare time and gaining new skills and experience. If you are looking to break into people-focused sectors such as charity work, it can also show inherent suitability and the right mindset. If you have been unable to find the right paid position and have taken a voluntary one in the meantime, to stay connected to your career aspirations, it highlights your dedication.

Will volunteering help getting a job?

Possibly, but there are no certainties. It won’t hurt your chances of paid employment, especially if you are volunteering somewhere you want to work for permanently, but try not to depend on volunteering as a way in to a position. 

Whether you’re considering volunteering for practical or humanitarian reasons, there are scores of positions waiting to be filled, so get your CV up to date and start applying today.