Why become a volunteer?
Volunteering is a mutually beneficial endeavour. It means more than providing free hours of your time to an organization. It is about learning and acquiring new skills and experiences that will benefit both you and the organization. There are numerous reasons why people decide to volunteer on campus, in their community, or overseas. The following are some of the most common reasons:
- Make a difference in someone’s life
- Express gratitude to an organization that may have helped you in the past
- Investigate new opportunities to try to find a true vocational interest
- Expose yourself to new opportunities and challenges
- Learn and develop transferable skills including leadership, problem-solving and creativity
- Gain work experience and improve your résumé and exposure
- Build self-esteem and self-confidence
- Make new friends with people who have similar interests
- Meet new people while experiencing new cultures and world views
- Feel valued and needed
- Make important networking contacts
Co-op students considering a volunteer position for an official work term credit must see their Co-op Advisor before making any commitment to a volunteer position.
How do I decide where to volunteer?
Spend some time figuring out what you are interested in. Volunteering can take up a lot of time and commitment. You will get more out of the experience if you enjoy where you are volunteering. The following are some guidelines that will help you choose a successful volunteer opportunity:
- Consider a volunteer position that matches your interests with the organization's needs
- If you don’t have a lot of time to volunteer, consider that many short-term volunteer opportunities may require just a few hours or days to complete
- Decide if you want to volunteer in your local community or if you want to travel to a new city or country
How do I get involved?
There are many ways to get involved, as well as numerous resources available to help you find a suitable organization to volunteer. Here are just a few suggestions to help you find a volunteer position:
- Ask friends and family if they know of any volunteer opportunities
- Check newspaper postings
- Check out school clubs and on-campus volunteer opportunities
- Check the Federation of Students’ website for volunteer opportunities
- Check the Centre for Career Development website, under Career-related Websites and select “Volunteering”
- Ask professors if they need assistance on various research projects in your field of study
- Attend the Volunteer/Internship Fairs sponsored by Centre for Career Development held in September and January each year. Check the Centre for Career Development website under "Workshops & Events" for details
- Browse through the hundreds of volunteer opportunities available in the Kitchener-Waterloo community through the Volunteer Action Centre website. By searching “Volunteer Opportunities” you will be able to modify your search according to your specific interest, time availability, or geographic region. Each volunteer position that matches your search will include a position description, time commitment, address, and information on how to apply
Get résumé credit for volunteering
Volunteer work experience is relevant experience and can be used to enhance an applicant's résumé. The following are a couple of ways in which this can be accomplished:
- Add your volunteer work to your work experience section
- Evaluate the relevancy of your volunteer work to the job application: identify the transferable skills obtained in the volunteer position and give specific examples that show the relationship between the volunteer role and the desired position
- Position your volunteer work correctly. If the volunteer position passed the relevancy test it can go alongside work experience. Call this section “Professional Experience” instead of “Work Experience”
- Do not simply list your volunteer jobs. Describe the volunteer work in terms of your achievements, highlighting the skills that you learned and demonstrated. Follow the same format as all other work experience
- Do not use “Volunteer” as your job title. Give your position more importance. For example, if you did tutoring, use the title “Tutor”
Volunteering abroad will provide the same benefits as all volunteer work including career development, flexibility and networking. In addition to these benefits, it will also provide cultural immersion within the community visited. It is also an affordable way to travel and a way to make a difference in the lives of others all over the world.
Considerations before volunteering abroad:
- Ask a travel agent, airline, or the embassy of the country you wish to volunteer in, if a passport is needed to travel to that country or to return. Make sure your passport will not expire while you are gone
- Ask the volunteer organization what type of visa, if any, is required. Will you need a Single Entry Visa vs. a Multiple Entry Visa? A Multiple Entry Visa will be needed if you are constantly leaving the country and returning. Find out if you will you need a Tourist Visa, Work Visa, Temporary or Indefinite Residence Visa
Prepare against health threats
- The volunteer organization should tell you of any concerns or immunization volunteers may need
- See your own doctor and dentist before leaving
- If you wear glasses or contacts bring extras. Get your eye doctor to give you a copy of your prescription. If you are on medication have everything clearly labelled and in a few separate bottles in case it gets lost or stolen. If it is a narcotic have your doctor write a letter explaining its use
- Bring your own first-aid kit prepared for sprains, cuts, headaches, colds, insect bites, sunburn, diarrhea, etc.
- Inquire about first aid courses from the Red Cross
- Women should be aware that sanitary products are not always available
Stay up to date on current events
- Keeping up to date on current events in the country you are visiting will prepare you for political situations, famines, health concerns, weather etc.
- Check for current worldwide news updates
How much money do you need?
- Ask the organization. Some organizations cover all expenses
- Bring travellers cheques, but first check if they are accepted in the country where you are volunteering. In some countries exchange rates are higher for hundred dollar bills and travellers cheques. Keep serial numbers of travelers cheques in a separate area
- Use a pouch under your clothing to avoid theft
- Licensed money exchange houses are quicker and offer better rates than banks and hotels. Hotels charge the highest rates
Learn the language
- Having basic knowledge of the language will enhance your experience and communication with locals
- Some volunteer programs include language lessons as part of their fee
- Purchase a dual language dictionary to bring with you
- Women need to worry more than men about their safety. Check travel-related websites for women
- Women must also be prepared and bring enough sanitary products, birth control, etc.
- Women should also check on appropriate dress codes for the country they are visiting
Become involved and join the 6.5 million Canadians who make a difference each year. Turn your ideas, interests, skills and time into volunteer action.