5 steps to get the most out of international development volunteering

Getting experience in a particular field through volunteering can really make your CV and application stand out when applying for roles, and this is especially true in the international development sector.

But how can you make sure that you pick the right opportunity for you and then make the most of it when you’ve started volunteering? Follow this plan to help make it a success:

1. Ask yourself three key questions

It can work well to dive straight in to Google and see what opportunities you might be interested in. However, if you’re not sure what role you’d like to give your time to then take a few minutes to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I passionate about?

There are thousands of international development organisations fighting for many valid causes but which ones are you passionate about? What have you seen that makes you want to change or feel better about the world, and want to celebrate? Is it human rights for refugees or education or healthcare? Organisations want people who believe in their cause and you’ll be much more motivated if you can align yourself with an organisation’s goals.

  • What can I offer an organisation?

Don’t be shy when answering this question. Make a list of everything that you’re good at. Are you brilliant communicator? Excel at research? Perhaps you have experience in running events? Knowing your skillset will help you pick out the best opportunities so that you can make the biggest impact when you are working with an organisation.

  • What do I want to achieve during my volunteering opportunity?

This is probably the toughest question to answer, but probably the most important. What is it that you really want to get from volunteering in international development? “Furthering my career” or “Making a difference” are good answers but how will you do that and how will you know when you have done that? Write down some practical steps, along with potential timelines, you can take to make sure you achieve your goals. For example these might include getting field experience, making a presentation to colleagues, raising £5000 at an event, or helping the charity work with 100 new beneficiaries. Success will look different to everyone, so give some thought to what it looks like to you.

Don’t be surprised if you get asked all of the above questions at an interview. A good volunteer manager will want to get to know you and help you achieve your goals.

Spend 10-15 minutes reviewing the above and then start your search for opportunities.

2. Keep track of what you’re learning

Think about the skills and experiences that you’re learning whilst you are volunteering. Keep a diary tracking what you’ve completed each week or month and this will make it much easier to translate into your CV when you’re applying for jobs at a later date. This will also help you see if you are missing any of your key goals that you’ve set yourself.

3. Network

One of the biggest benefits of volunteering is meeting new and interesting people, some of whom might be able to help with future career goals. Networking can take place on or offline but be sure to introduce yourself to new people and have a few sentences prepared explaining what your volunteering entails.

4. Ask for feedback and a reference

When volunteering you should have an assigned person that you can go to for support. Make sure you ask for feedback on your work and areas where you can improve. This will give you a chance to reflect on your skillset and also ensure that you’re making an impact at your chosen organisation. If you’ve made a significant contribution to an organisation then they should be very happy to either be a referee for future job applications or provide a reference that you can use.

5. Articulate your volunteering in job applications

It sounds obvious but make sure you add your volunteering to your CV and detail your experiences and successes. Give examples of tangible achievements and what you learned during your time with the organisation. Make sure you show your passion for your work in interviews; recruiters want to hear that you enjoyed your it and like to make an impact.

I’m sure the above will help you have a successful volunteering placement. Good luck!

This post was originally written by me for the London School of Economics, who have full copyright. See the original post.

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8 thoughts on “5 steps to get the most out of international development volunteering

  1. These are really good tips. I have a very small NGO in Accra but getting the chance to volunteer in the charity, non-profit, or international development sector is important to me. It allows me to grow and gain a better understanding of some of the goals I want to implement within my NGO. Although I have a B.Sc in community development I can use these tips to help achieve even more personal goals.

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