Why is it so hard to start volunteering?

I hear this all the time, and trust me, I understand. I work for a volunteering charity and spend half of my life talking about volunteering, yet I still struggle to find an opportunity that works with my schedule and complements my skills and interests.

From the perspective of the potential volunteer, I recognise the frustration of wanting to help but being unable to find suitable opportunities, getting put on waiting lists or not even getting a response from some charities at all.

But as a volunteer co-ordinator, I see it from the other side. The project that I work on, Talking Together, requires volunteers who can teach English classes during the working day. This suits the needs of our learners and if we ran evening and weekend classes, they would not be able to attend.  We also tend to run classes in school terms so there are none over the summer and we usually only take volunteer applications at certain times of year depending on need.

I know this means that many amazing potential volunteers can’t get involved, but we can only look for volunteers who can do the role we need them to do. This applies to many other charities which need volunteers to assist with specific projects and so will require volunteers with specific time available and particular skill sets.  

I don’t want to make excuses for charities not replying to emails or answering calls. Here at TimeBank we always try to get back to potential volunteers as quickly as we can!  However, limited time and resources means that often the person you need to speak to about an opportunity isn’t available. This means the response may take a little longer than you’d expect, and you may have to wait a little while for the recruitment window to open.

But having said all of this, I assure you there are plenty of organisations out there looking for volunteers just like you!  There are many websites that charities use to advertise, including Do-It, Team London and Charity Job. It's also worth following charities that you're interested in on social media as many charities post volunteer opportunities there.

If your work schedule makes volunteering seem impossible, find out if your company offers volunteering leave as this could be a way to increase the amount of time you have available. Or think about corporate volunteering, when you can volunteer with your colleagues for a day.

Some opportunities naturally work really well for those in full time work: volunteering on one of our mentoring projects to support refugees or veterans, or being a charity trustee, for example. Many charities are looking for talented trustees from a variety of backgrounds and the time commitment for this usually suits those with a 9-5 job.

While it can take more time than you would think to find a volunteering opportunity that works for you, the end result could be volunteering for an organisation you feel passionate about, doing something that you enjoy. And who knows what else volunteering could bring to your life? TimeBank volunteers have gained new skills, changed careers and made friends as a result of their volunteering. So a good opportunity is worth the wait!