First Steps

Volunteers in a kitchen       Photo by DC Central Kitchen CC BY 2.0

 
With so many volunteering opportunities in and around Bristol, it’s sometimes hard to know where to begin. Here’s our step-by-step guide to finding the right volunteer role for you:
 
1) Think of what type of cause or organisation you would like to volunteer with
Have a think about what causes you are interested in, what you are passionate about, or just what you would like to learn more about, and make a list. Are you passionate about making a difference in your local community? Do you love wildlife? Are you interested in museums and heritage; health and social care; art and culture; human rights; crime and justice? Working with disadvantaged children, with older people?
 
2) Think about what skills you have and what you are willing to share
Maybe you are a good listener and would like to be a listener or befriender. Maybe you are a passionate talker, and would like to help an organisation canvas for a good cause. You might be an expert in marketing, or a dab hand with a spade and enjoy being outdoors. Perhaps your language skills would be of benefit to an organisation, or your attention to detail and love of making sure things are kept in order. Be positive, and think outside the box - there are many different types of volunteering roles out there, and your expertise or life experience can bring a lot to the equation.  
 
If you have more than two years of professional experience in a particular field, it might be that you want to get involved in our Boost! project, matching organisations with particular needs to your skill set.
 
3) Think about what you would like to do
Would you like to do something practical like gardening or warehouse work? Perhaps you would prefer to develop your artistic side by helping out at a festival or working on media projects. From befriending to advising, cooking to administrative tasks, driving to dog-walking, leading activities to guiding. Volunteering inside, outside, in a shop environment, a cafe, a community centre, or an office… there are over 600 volunteer opportunities listed by Volunteer Bristol alone. Think through what you think you might enjoy doing. After all, you are volunteering and should enjoy the experience.  But don’t be afraid to try something new either...
 
4) Think about what you want to get out of it
It is important to think about why you are interested in volunteering. These are the things that will motivate you to keep volunteering, so it’s important to have some idea what is driving you to make sure that the role you go for ticks the right boxes.
 
Are you wanting to get out of the house and meet new people?  Some roles are more sociable than others, with opportunities to do tasks as a group and work closely with a team; others require volunteers to work more autonomously. Some organisations have specific supported volunteer programmes for individuals with additional support needs.  Are you hoping to get experience in a specific area, such as social care or marketing and communications?  Volunteering roles can help teach you new skills and develop existing ones, especially if you identify what you want to learn.
 
5) Think (honestly!) about how much time you have
It’s easy to overcommit so be honest with yourself as to how much time you have available to volunteer. We recommend starting out small, testing the water to see if you like something… From an organisation perspective, certain roles require a regular weekly commitment, but there are plenty of one-off volunteer projects - even if you only have a few minutes, you can do something to help a local project.
 
For example, have you heard of micro-volunteering? Websites such as Help From Home are full of ideas as to how you can make a difference in bite-sized chunks at times that suit you without regular commitment.
 
6) Find out what’s going on locally
Having thought through the above steps, you will have a better idea what you are hoping to do and there are some easy places to start looking for the right opportunity for you:
If you are internet savvy and want to have a look online, visit our opportunity listings on www.Do-It.org to see what there is on offer.  If you find something you are interested in, we recommend you contact the organisation directly.
Keep an eye out on community noticeboards for forthcoming projects and volunteer opportunities
Follow Volunteer Bristol on twitter @VolBristol to keep up to date with the latest opportunities and other interesting information
If you would like to talk to someone in person about options that are available locally, why not pop in to the Volunteer Bristol drop-in any Tuesday or Wednesday 11am-3pm, Royal Oak House, Royal Oak Avenue, Bristol, BS1 4GB
 
Now here comes the bit where you bite the bullet, stop procrastinating, and take action...
 
7) Apply
It's great to cast your net wide and apply for a few opportunities if you can.  For some smaller charities and organisations, and for some one-off events, this may just be a case of picking up the phone or popping in to speak to someone if the project is public-facing. Most organisations will have a simple application that they will ask you to complete.  Having gone through all the steps above, you should be in a good position to answer many of the questions they ask both on the form and in any chats you might have about whether the role is suitable for what you are looking for, and whether it is a good fit.
 
Also think about having a couple of references - people who can vouch for who you are and how you act.  This could be a friend, previous employer, support worker… organisations will have different requirements.
 
Try to be patient - many organisations really do need your help but have limited resources and may not get in touch straight away - it may take a bit of time before you can start volunteering.  If you don't hear back after a few weeks though, don't give up... GIve them a call, or see if any new opportunities have come up that you might be interested in.  When you start, we recommend agreeing on a trial shift or trial period so that you can check it is the role for you, that you get on with the team and the organisation's ethos.
 
Some roles might require you to have a DBS check, but if you do have a criminal record, you can still volunteer in most roles depending on your offences. Unlock is a charity that provides support and advice to around this subject - visit their website to find out more (hub.unlock.org.uk).
 
 
So that's it!  In just a few steps, you could be volunteering...
 
We wish you all the best, that you find the right volunteer role for you, and remember, enjoy yourself! Volunteering should be fun - and many organisations could not do the good work they do without your support!
 
Here are some links which may also prove useful:
Volunteering whilst on benefits: www.gov.uk/volunteering/when-you-can-volunteer
National Council for Voluntary Orgnisations (NCVO): www.ncvo.org.uk/ncvo-volunteering/why-volunteer
Sports Volunteering Opportunities: www.joininuk.org