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How to Find the Right Volunteering Opportunity for You

Written by Jenny McWhirter on 03 / 03 / 2016

Gap Year Advice

Volunteering is without a shadow of a doubt one of the BEST things you can do on your gap year. It sounds cheesy as hell, but by volunteering your services to those less fortunate than yourself, you can really help make a difference.

And it doesn’t matter if you’ve only just left school either – even volunteers who haven’t developed skill sets yet can offer physical strength, enthusiasm, money and pass on their knowledge of the English language.

However, you may be asking yourself:

Where do I begin? How do I find the right volunteer program for me?

Well, in order to do that, you have to ask yourself a few more questions first...

What Am I Passionate About?

A key factor in being a successful volunteer is passion for what you’re doing. Figuring out what that could be isn't as straightforward as people may tell you either, as 17-year-old high school student Midas Kwant points out in his excellent TED talk, above.

Think about what issues matter to you most, then search for a nearby organisation that addresses these issues. Whether you want to help protect endangered species, teach kids, do community work, or carry out conservation projects, there’s bound to be something out there for you.

To help you out, take a look at this Volunteer Abroad page, where you can choose a program based on your personal interests and even take a quiz to determine the right placement for you.

What Skills Can I Offer?

Think about the skills you’ve already mastered and how you might be able to apply them to a volunteering opportunity. These can be professional skills, hobbies or recreational talents – almost every type of skill can come in useful somewhere.

I would advise you to focus on those that you don’t use every day, as this will make the experience more exciting for you and you’ll probably find you do a better job of it.

For example, you may really enjoy cooking but are used to eating meals cooked by your school or parents. In which case you might like to volunteer in the kitchen for an organisation like FoodCycle. Those who are sick of being stuck indoors and want to do something active could opt to devote their time to sports volunteering with an organisation like Sport England.

Simply think of what you’re good at, type it into Google followed by the word ‘volunteer’ and bingo! A whole assortment of options will magically appear at your fingertips.

Where Do I Want to Be Based?

Some people choose to volunteer abroad, whereas others prefer to be closer to home – either way, you’ll find that there are numerous opportunities available. There are even ‘virtual’ volunteer opportunities, which enable you to work via computer from any location.

Those who would rather combine their volunteering experience with a bit of travelling - which I’d certainly recommend as a fantastic way to see the world - should check out the gap year volunteering projects listed on, of which there are over 500.

That should keep you occupied for a while!

Who Do I Want to Work With?

Do you want to work alone or with a group? With people your age, older or younger? The choice is yours, but make sure you know what you want before accepting a volunteering position.

It’s also possible to help people without working directly with them by taking on an admin role, whereby you’d support the admin functions of a particular organisation by collating and inputting data, preparing volunteer training packs, filing, archiving and managing resources. There's a useful bunch of these listed in the admin section on - so be sure to check that out.

If you’d like to work as a team with other volunteers and meet new people, then there are plenty of things you can do. From community building to wildlife conservation - the options are endless.

Is forest conservation the sort of thing you're passionate about? Take a look at the latest addition to our gap year programs, 4 Weeks in Madagascar: Forest Conservation + Island Hopping + Teaching, where you can spend 4 weeks in the beautiful surroundings of Madagascar. It's packed full of amazing experiences, with a real chance to help local communities...

What Would I Like to Learn?

As a volunteer, you have the freedom to experiment a little bit. Perhaps there’s something you’ve always wanted to learn. In which case now’s the time to do it, as volunteering helps you develop different skills in a fun way.

Take a look at last week's post where I explain how Travelling Boosts Personal Development.

Certain organisations will willingly take you on as a beginner in the knowledge that you’ll be motivated by tackling something new. By challenging yourself in such a way, you’ll gain a fresh perspective that you’ll be able to carry with you forever.

Ready, Set, Go

So, are you feeling ready to get your volunteer hat on and start applying for positions? Let me know if I can help or call me to chat all things travel.

Check out our gap year programs

We have award winning 'planet saving' programs across Africa, Asia, South and Central America.

Reducing plastic in our oceans, protecting turtles and saving the rhino is just the tip of the melting iceberg.

All experiences include a mix of projects and adventures, travelling with a team and, of course, are risk assessed.

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