An informal conversation and guide to the sometimes confusing world of volunteering.

Micro-volunteer for Haiti

Extraordinaries HaitiThe Extraordinaries, a USA based site are currently running a campaign for virtual micro volunteers to help in the Haiti disaster. Virtual micro-volunteering is where people can take on small tasks that they can do via a smart-phone or computer. It uses the concept of crowdsourcing to break a task into smaller chunks so that many people can contribute to completing the larger goal.

The Extraordinaries Haiti Support Centre is attempting to harness the power of the crowd to help locate and identify missing persons with just a few minutes of your time.

There are two ways you can get involved. The first is by looking at news images from the disaster and tagging them. The second is comparing the news images with photographs of missing people that have been submitted to find possible matches.

Aware that micro-volunteering is still in it's early days I had a go at both tagging and matching on the Extraordinaries. I know my thoughts - why not give it a go, and let me know what you think.

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Retail Therapy

oxfam newDalston Oxfam ©patrick47cullenThanks to initiatives such as 'Donate Don't Dump' it seems charity shops are shedding the stuffy, scruffy image they once had.

No longer just outlets for moth-eaten cardigans and scratched Cliff Richard records, many charity shops are stepping up their game and getting on-trend with vintage clothes and classic records, retaining the sustainable, eco-friendly ethos which made them great in the first place.

I recently spent a day volunteering at Oxfam in Dalston - one of the hippest charity shops of the moment, so hip they even have a Twitter account! It was really exciting to be granted access to the cavernous bowels of the shop where volunteers sort through the donations - a treasure trove of cameras, hats, jewelry and even a unicycle! Also, having worked in retail in the past it was nice to think that this time round all the cash I was racking up on the till was going to a good cause. So, next time you see a sign up in your local charity shop advertising for volunteers, give it a go, you might be surprised.

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Help the homeless

Homeless © ehow.comAs I complained about my frozen toes this morning I stopped to think about how lucky I was to have warmth and shelter to go home to tonight.

These cold but oh so pretty snow days are actually life threatening conditions for our country’s homeless. I know that the homeless charity I volunteer at is going that extra mile to ensure it gets more people off the streets and into some warmth.

Normally their night centre sees up to 40 people but over the last couple of weeks that number has over doubled. That means that night shelters like theirs are in extra need of volunteers.

If you want to help the homeless get out of the cold visit  Crisis for details of a drop in centre near you.

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Your top 10

10I don't know about you but it seemed as though over the festive period (which seems ages away now) there was one countdown after another. From best film to  funniest comedy moments and everything in between.

So, we’re going one better. We’ve compiled the top 10 volunteering opportunities of 2009 that were featured in  our newsletter and that our volunteers were most interested in. Take a look .

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Can volunteering help you get a job?

Depends on who you ask.Loughborough University careers centre @ flickrOur surveys reveal  that approximately half of  TimeBank volunteers claim that volunteering experience helped them secure a job, and that 84% of employers agree that volunteering is a way to find work.  The Institute of Volunteering Research concludes that there's strong belief in the value of volunteering as a direct route into work but there's little hard evidence.

So what's your experience? Is volunteering valued by employers or is it seen as the poor relation to paid work? I tend to add it to the end of my CV, listing it below my paid work. But it's the unpaid volunteering that's given me some of my strongest skills.

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Spirit in the snow

vicarage @ toes are cold but my heart is warm. It's been lovely to see that the snow and freezing temperatures has seen kindness spread across Britain. Friendly folk have given out hot drinks and food to drivers stuck on roads for hours at a time and 4x4 owners have used their sturdy vehicles to get much needed meals on wheels to people who can't get out and about.

They might not call themselves volunteers, but they are. Wouldn't it be great to keep the community spirit and the volunteering going? But, as we're due to have a couple more weeks of this horrible weather check on your neighbours and keep the kindness going.

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Banking behind bars

prison cells c openphoto.netThis week I read about the Co-operative bank giving prisoners bank accounts. It struck me that this was an everyday thing that I take for granted but could have so much impact on the lives of prisoners.

The Co-op have found that having a bank account can reduce re-offending by half. It's positive, real life changes like this that make the difference.

Prisoners are also doing it for themsleves, in peer to peer schemes. The Toe by Toe Reading Plan, run by the Shannon Trust is a project where prisoners become mentors and are trained to encourage and support other prisoners with little or no reading skills.

You can also support prisoners, have a look at Prison Advice or Prisoners' Families Helpline

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New Year's resolutions

chocolate c commons.wikimediaIt was literally two minutes past 12 on New Years Day that I thought of some resolutions for 2010. People love New Years resolutions - I'm not the biggest fan.

They're a great idea in theory but do they work?  There seems to be loads of pressure to have really good ones and it's usually to stop doing something (eating chocolate, smoking) rather than to start.

People give up quickly - ask someone a week later and they've come up against an obstacle, given up or can't even remember what they were (that's what you get for thinking them up at two minutes past 12!).

Having said all this,  I do have a couple of New Year's resolutions and I'll share one with you. Here goes......I would like to do lots more volunteering - to make it a very regular part of my life.  I reckon I've got a pretty good chance of doing it too if I follow these handy hints.

* Get a specific contact name of the volunteer coordinator or relevant person so that it  can be chased up
* Have the last five years of addresses to hand to avoid the delay of filling in your CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) check
* Register for the TimeBank monthly newsletter for lots of different volunteering ideas and to sign up to this blog
* Do some research and think about what to do before  looking
* Pay a personal visit to the local volunteer centre to find out about local volunteering opportunities there and then
* Don’t be afraid to say no to an opportunity
* Be patient - all good things come to those who wait!

So, why not you give volunteering a try? It beats trying to give up chocolate or going on a diet, I'd struggle with those myself. Let me know how you get on - after all, a bit of support works wonders for New Year's resolutions (so I hear).

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