There always seems to be more things on the to-do list: replying to emails, catching up on lectures, seeing friends once in a blue moon, or working your minimum-wage job to get the bills paid.
Coming off the end of National Volunteer Week, you might be wondering how on Earth people have time to volunteer. On top of everything else, where do people find spare time to take part in unpaid personal development?
We all know the benefits of volunteering. You get the ‘helper’s high’ because you’re doing good deeds. You build an increased sense of social responsibility. You meet and network with new passionate people, any of whom could be a valuable career connection. Prospective employers can see your different interests and skills through the organisations you volunteer for.
We don’t need to be convinced of the benefits. We need to know how to fit volunteering into our busy schedules when weekends already don’t exist.
Don’t worry; that’s exactly what I’ve been figuring out over my last four years at uni. Here are some questions you should ask yourself about volunteering and the sneaky workarounds I’ve discovered that have helped buff up my resume without sacrificing my sanity.
What are you interested in?
This one seems obvious, but it’s make or break. If you volunteer for organisations you value and are interested in, you’ll make time for it when your schedule fills up. Make sure who you’re volunteering for and what you’re doing is the right fit for you. Volunteering should be a rewarding experience. Whether you’re picking up rubbish on the beach or creating content for your community, pick the opportunities that suit you.
Remember that QUT Student Guild club, society or collective executive roles could count as volunteering if they’re unpaid! The Guild also has a new volunteers program if you’re interested in student services and activism more generally.
What do you want to get out of the opportunity?
Skilled volunteering is a fantastic way to ensure opportunities benefit you and align with your passions. It can be a great way to refine your expertise and showcase your abilities. You might have developed those skills in uni, but now is your time to prove it. You can do anything from data analytics and finance to marketing and coaching. Not-for-profits in particular love bringing people on board for a while to help make projects happen. It’s super satisfying seeing your work out there in the real world (yes, I went there).
What is your time and energy capacity?
Volunteering doesn’t have to be a lifelong thing with one organisation. Nowadays, it’s much more flexible than it used to be. Thinking about how much you’ve got to give might help you decide what opportunities you take on.
Volunteering for one-off events is a great way to get immersed in and to show employers what you’re passionate about without committing to months on end. Getting involved with events like the World Science Festival or Brisbane Festival can be a great way to volunteer a day or two and walk away with experience that looks great on a resume. Event volunteering tends to be easier to make time for and affiliates your name with renowned organisations. Event volunteer roles are diverse, letting you play to your strengths or the skills you want to develop, whether that’s behind the scenes or hosting sessions.
Would online opportunities suit you better?
You read that right. You can volunteer online. Virtual volunteering means you don’t have to worry about travel time and it’s from the comfort of your home. You can be snuggled up on the couch with your laptop and make a difference. United Nations Volunteers, Zooniverse, Catchafire, and Go Volunteer are good places to start.
Virtual opportunities often take the form of citizen science: the public collecting or analysing data. There are massive datasets that need a lot of manpower to be made into meaningful information. Whether you want to explore the ocean depths through the Great Reef Census or be cloudspotting on Mars with NASA, you’ll find a project to pique your interest.
Are you worried about not being credited for your contribution? If your hours aren’t already tracked in a volunteer management solution, you can ask the organisation to write a letter confirming your involvement.
What will help motivate me?
If you’re like me and always looking for a more meaningful (and budget-friendly) way to catch up with friends, consider volunteering together. Everything’s more fun with friends, right? In my experience, coffee and a beach clean-up is a pretty good combo. Bringing other people with you on your volunteering journey can be a great way to empower and motivate each other. As a chronic procrastinator myself, I know I need an external motivator when things get busy. So, I’ve carved out a few set hours every fortnight where people rely on me to show up. It’s kept me going.
Where do I find these opportunities?
In my experience, this has been the most time-consuming aspect of volunteering. Opportunities are scattered between individual organisation sites or more broad nationwide platforms. As volunteers, we already give our time for free, so opportunities should be easy to find, substantiate, and sign up for. I’ve started a resource to hopefully help collate some Meanjin/Brisbane-based or online options in one place. If you know of any opportunities, want to be part of it, or just see what @getinvolvedbrisbane is all about click here.
Now I have to acknowledge that it’s a privilege to have spare time to give unpaid. The life of a uni student tends to be beautifully busy and broke; you can only do so much. At the end of the day, it is what it is.
But I hope these tips will help you buff up that resume without breaking your brain. A volunteering connection may carve a new career path for you, like it did for me.
Get involved Glassies, your future self will thank you.
Nicola (she/her) is a Meanjin/Brisbane based student and hopeful communications professional. She is currently studying Environmental Science and Communication at QUT.