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Volunteering: What to expect and how to get the most out of the experience


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Emilia, BA(Hons) Dance, Class of 2021

Volunteering is something I have been doing for a bit over 5 years now and is something I have found to be an incredibly valuable experience. As someone hoping for a career within the creative industry, volunteering, in the current arts sector, seems to be such an integral part of career development. Here, I would like to give an overview of some red and green flags to look out for when choosing an organisation to volunteer with.

First of all, let’s explore some green flags when it comes to volunteering:

  • Organisation/Company has had volunteers before

Not essential but definitely a green flag. It is reassuring to know that the company/organisation has previous experience with the volunteers, particularly student volunteers or those who have had placements/internships at the company. It often makes starting your volunteering role much quicker and easier as they have policies in place, and framework of responsibilities for you to take on.

  • Flexible with commitment and workload

This is a conversation you obviously must have and there will be expectations that need to be met regardless to the fact you are working for free. However, as most people fit in volunteering around studies or part-time jobs, is it essential that your volunteering organisation is sensitive to this and understands there may be periods where the time you dedicate to them may shift.

  • Understanding of the two-way exchange

As much as you are giving a company work for free, it should also be benefitting your aspirations and personal growth. Open conversation about what you wish to achieve during your time with the organisation, which areas you wish to focus on, and the timeframe in which you have to achieve these is a must. Finding whether an organisation is right for you is key, for a healthy and beneficial volunteering experience.

Now some things to be wary of:

  • Reluctance to cover your costs

Yes, you are working for free, but you should not be paying to work. If you are working at organisations far away from you or attending long events, travel and food expenses should be provided. This should be discussed before you start your volunteering. Some volunteering opportunities may not offer this because they are small companies or charities and do not have the funds to do so, which I would say is an exception to this red flag. However, if this then makes the work unfeasible for you, you should not feel tied to continue giving your time to this organisation, and you should be made aware of this before starting your volunteering work.

  • Excessive workload and time commitment

Volunteering is part time, and this can take many forms but if you are being expected to complete a full-time job for free this is a huge red flag. You may be working four days a week, 9-5 on a placement, but then this should lessen or end after say six weeks, for example and should not continue long term. Unless you are wanting to and have the financial stability to volunteer full time and this is something you have discussed with your host, I would say any more than two days (16hrs) a week would be too much to ask of a volunteer.

I hope this blog post has been able to give you more confidence when finding volunteering opportunities, and you have the best experience possible to further your professional development.

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