You can choose from many NGOs if you wish to dedicate a little of your “resources” to a good cause. There are several ways to help and depending on your personal situation and resources, you can choose from the following:
- Offering percentage from your tax (in countries where this option is viable)
- Food / clothing / books / material donations
- Voluntary work
This article is about the last one from the list: voluntary work, read on to get inspiration and hands on tips!
At the start of your career, you will face the fact that in most cases when applying for a job, among the requirements work experience will be listed. But how? All your life (so far) was turning around studying hard and finishing your exams with outstanding results, when would you have time to get work experience?
Here is the easy answer: go and work as a volunteer during your studies!
Depending on the size and area of activity of the NGO, you can gain first-hand professional experience with relatively little constraint and great flexibility. In a well functioning NGO you can get individual mentoring, tasks tailored to fit your interests and the profile of the organization. With project-based organizations, you will have the opportunity to help with marketing / PR / research / construction / logistics / event management / accounting or many other jobs in only one project. Try everything from your area of interest, this will be the key to figure out what you love to do and in which area you are actually performing well.
5 steps to follow:
Defining a goal
It is good for everyone if you are purposeful: you know what you want, you are aware of your real options, so you can get the most out of this experience!
For example: if you want to gain experience in a foreign country, first check if you fulfill the conditions for entry and residence. Do not expect from the NGO to arrange that for you. Be proactive!
Or if you cannot afford financially to travel somewhere and work for an NGO apply for grants and scholarships. That is how I could finance my first ever job working under the mentoring of UNHCR in Greek refugee camps.
- in which field do you want to gain experience?
- what jobs would you want to do? (Project Coordinator, PR, Legal Aid, etc.)
- choose a cause for which you would work (environment, social assistance, animal welfare, minors, education, etc.)
One of the most important and valuable factors is time: it is important to see clearly how much do you have, thus you can make commitments without compromising your studies. And it is also important to pay attention to yourself and your mental well-being by including appropriate rest periods.
In addition to time, your pre-existing knowledge and experience is important as well, a CV will be the best for summarizing and presenting your values.
Last but not least, you can also offer your personal tools for work, such as a laptop for telecommuting, your network, or your social media platforms.
- write down how much time you can devote to volunteering (personal presence / teleworking), when, with what regularity
- what are your values (ex. previous experiences, but it is important to focus on knowledge relevant for the job)
- what tools are available to you (laptop, bike, books)
Select the cause close to your heart:
Volunteering is a love project and for that you will sacrifice your time, energy and the best of your knowledge! You will most probably work for a good cause, without any payment, so look for organizations whose goals resonate with your values.
Tips for starting a successful business include that if you are not willing to do a particular activity for free for at leas one year, your business is unlikely to reach a level where it would already be fruitful. This is applicable to volunteer work as well, it can bring you unexpected fruits later on in your life.
After selecting the cause you have to find the best organization, this is just as crucial. By following the steps below, you will be able to select the most suitable NGO for you, and you will definitely be prepared for an interview with them:
- create a list with several NGOs
- look at their projects, what are they focusing on and what are their goals
- how big is their team, how much do they focus on community building, how diverse their palette is
- Find the description / rulebook for volunteering on the website of the organizations you like
- feel free to do research about: their financing (these financial statements are always public data)
- look at the media coverage
Once you have managed to narrow down your selection a lot will depend on the first contact. A targeted e-mail that shows your interests, experience, and the fact that you have made a concrete effort to get to know the organization will always result in a positive outcome, even if they are not looking for a volunteer. Rejection can, of course, be part of this process, especially for larger NGOs, who usually have periodic opening for volunteer positions.
The importance of establishing contact:
- write only after you have gathered all the important information!
- write them an e-mail telling you about yourself, your interests and your specific goals, attach a targeted CV
- if you apply to a larger NGO, wait for the recruitment process to be opened
In addition to the first point, you will not only gain professional experience, but you can also try to focus on the field you want to choose as your career. If you are still facing a decision, try different fields, later on it will be easier to find the direction of specialization.
“Choose a job you love to do and you don’t have to work a day in your life.”
Confucius has already realized that the work you do can be connected to what you actually love to do. Without exaggerating: there is no job that would not sometimes be a burden, but if you hate every moment of it, try to look for something else.
Finding your borders
As a volunteer, you can find your limits: imagine that you have a safety net under you, try to fulfill the tasks you have undertaken, but if you get stuck there will always be someone you can turn to (a mentor, fellow volunteer, project manager, etc.). This will give you a good headstart.
In addition, you can now learn how to balance private life and volunteering + university (/ job / job search / any life situation).
Working for the non-profit sector is also a great opportunity to form friendships and professional relationships. You will get to know plenty of enthusiastic volunteers with whom your interests will greatly overlap. Because of them, the cold at the Christmas market, the night-long work at a festival, or the endless paperwork on a legal matter will be more bearable.
In addition, you can get to know those with whom you will need to keep in touch even when you are working live in your workplace (journalists, lawyers, public figures, etc.). And you can turn to your mentors for advice, letters of recommendation, encouragement even after you are no longer working there.
In addition to tangible experiences, volunteering also shapes you as a person. In the course of your work, you will meet many kind helpers who will give you support and honestly… there is nothing more incredible than a strong community who comes together to solve a problem.
For me the most amazing thing is when everyone gives a little from their resources to support a cause, and together they move mountains if needed! Community is a value.
If you would like to tell us about your volunteer experience, write to email@example.com. Can’t wait to hear your story!