How To Find Volunteer Work That Will Help Start Your Career


Many volunteer organizations recruit and interview volunteers much like they would when hiring paid staff.

However, are volunteers catching up and treating the volunteer hunt like a job hunt?

Network for Good gives advice about how to go about your volunteer hunt, including the following:

  • Research the causes or issues that are important to you: find or create an organization that focuses on issues you’re passionate about.
  • Consider the skills you have to offer: share skills that you use all day at work or that you have gained from a hobby or other experiences. Organizations requiring volunteers usually offer some training, but excessive training is costly and defeats the purpose of hiring volunteers.
  • Seek opportunities where you can learn something new: this can be exciting, rewarding, and good for career development
  • Combine your goals: look for volunteer opportunities that will also help you achieve your other goals for your life, whether personal or professional.
  • Don’t over-commit your schedule: be up front about how many hours you can commit to the organization.  You don’t want to frustrate the organization or overwhelm yourself.

Applications and interviews are good things

You might be interviewed and expected to fill out an application, just like for a job.  This is done to match you to tasks based on your skills and to ensure that you’re committed.

It’s probably a good thing that an organization does this, so don’t let it scare you away. You are much more likely to find a meaningful volunteer position at an organization that puts time and planning into hiring their volunteers.

Questions for the volunteer organization

  • Will you have to sign a release from liability form so that the organization is not liable for any accidents you might have?  This is especially important if you will be driving.
  • How many hours will I be expected to commit each week?
  • How long will my training be?
  • Is there a minimum time commitment in terms of months?
  • Does the agency seem professional in terms of providing clear volunteer guidelines, confidentiality agreements, etc.?   You can learn a lot by the way in which an organization goes about recruiting, interviewing, and “hiring” volunteers.
  • Will I need a police check?

Additional questions for volunteering abroad

Verge Magazine suggests that you ask pointed questions such as:

  • What preparation materials and resources do you provide before my departure?
  • May I speak with some returned volunteers?
  • Who are the organization’s local support people and what are their roles and responsibilities?
  • Can they provide orientation on topics such as body language, clothing, gender roles, poverty, history, health and safety, etc.?
  • Are they available to assist with unforeseen issues and emergencies?

About virtual volunteering

Virtual volunteering can consist of giving free legal advice or typing a paper for a disabled student.  Virtual volunteering allows you to volunteer if your time or transportation is limited. TalentEgg’s writers and intern editors are one example of a meaningful virtual volunteer and/or intern experience.

Even the United Nations has information about virtual volunteering.  It can be just as reputable and as valuable an experience as volunteering in person.

Some additional resources

There are sites to help you narrow down your volunteer hunt and find reputable agencies and useful resources.  If your city or province isn’t listed here, it’s worth searching for a similar agency in your area.

Not all volunteer postings will be listed on these types of websites, so if there’s a particular cause or agency you want to support, try searching through a phone book or doing a regular Internet search.  Another place to check is your campus career centre; sometimes you can access volunteer postings even after you graduate.   Your campus career centre might even have a volunteer position for you going back to talk to other students about your career path.

  • govolunteer is a tool that helps connect people to volunteer opportunities in Alberta and British Columbia.  It is funded by the Human Resources Development Canada.  Users can browse by activity, organization type, location, or keyword.  Searches can be further refined to find positions at special events or board positions.
  • Charity Village is a website that posts for both paid and volunteer opportunities in the not-for-profit sector.  Volunteer opportunities can be searched by location or keyword, and further by today’s openings, virtual positions, or positions for high school students to fulfill their 40 hours of volunteering.
  • Volunteer Canada is a national organization that has over 86 volunteer centres across Canada.  They require that members adopt the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement, which sets out the “values, principles, and standards for effective volunteer practices within organizations.”
  • Volunteer Ottawa is useful for people in the Ottawa region, though similar organizations exist in other provinces.
About the author

Elizabeth Baisley is currently studying for an Master of Arts in Political Studies at Queen's University, where she works as a teaching assistant. She recently completed her Honours Bachelor of Arts in Human Rights & Human Diversity at Wilfrid Laurier University's Brantford campus. Elizabeth's academic interest in the rights of marginalized populations translates into her volunteer work and extracurricular involvement in the fields of rights advocacy, immigrant settlement, literacy, health, environmental issues, and local democracy. In September 2013, she will begin her PhD in Politics at Princeton University.