Five benefits of volunteering in the NGO sector

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Getting started in your first NGO job, or returning to work after a career break, can be difficult and you may be facing high levels of competition.  One way to feel that you are learning and growing while you wait for that perfect role, is to consider volunteering with an NGO.  Here are just some of the benefits to your NGO career:

Gather useful career information

Volunteering at an NGO gives you all sorts of background information to help you

  • decide if you really want to work there
  • get a clear understanding of their values, current priorities and challenges

This information gives you a wealth of material to talk about at interview and helps them to feel that if employed, you would really “hit the ground running”.

Try out different job areas

For most of us, when we take a paid role in an NGO it is working to a fixed role description, for instance a finance officer or a human rights lawyer. 

The beauty of being a volunteer is that you can ask to experience different departments of the NGO, to test out where your NGO career should be focused. 

Ask to try out advocacy and policy, campaigning, fundraising, project management or communications. 

Even spending just one day with each different team will give you an idea of where your skills might best be used, and this can help you decide about additional training courses to pursue or specialisms to think about.

Boost the capacity of that NGO

The brilliant thing about volunteering is that as well as helping you in your career, you can really add value to the organisation you volunteer for. 

NGO budgets are notoriously tight and whilst volunteers cannot legally do the work usually done by paid staff, they can hugely expand what the paid staff team has time to do.  For example

  • As a climate change campaign volunteer at a conservation NGO you could add value by being a local coordinator for everyone interested in climate change in your town or village.  You might be organising shared transport to mass lobbies, coordinating signatures for petitions or arranging joint meetings with your MP
  • As a journalism volunteer at a humanitarian NGO you could increase the number of press releases written and sent out to print, radio and TV channels or enable the NGO to capture vital photographs at additional field sites that the staff team don’t have time to visit
  • As a social media volunteer at a housing NGO you could be working alongside staff to increase the frequency of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts, test out new platforms and reach new potential supporters by using your own networks

Improve your mental health

There has been much research to show that volunteering has a direct benefit to your own mental health. 

Getting out of the house on a regular basis, meeting new people, contributing to a wider goal and having a real sense of purpose can all help to reduce anxiety and build resilience in mental health for both adults and children.

Learn new skills

An NGO with a good volunteer support system will take time to invest in you, helping you learn new skills and systems. 

Bear in mind that it may take several weeks (or even months) for you to actually become useful, while you get up to speed with new processes.  Try to commit to at least 6 months in the organisation so that as well as learning new skills, you can really be useful to them.  Depending on which direction you want your career to go, as a volunteer you could be learning a variety of skills including:

  • Database recording – NGOs use databases such as Ascent, Raiser’s Edge, Dynamics or Salesforce to help them manage donations and supporter information.  Being familiar with inputting data or running reports will help you in any career with an NGO
  • Content writing – you could learn to write short social media posts or longer blogs or articles to help drive traffic to the NGO’s website
  • Video creation and editing – NGOs increasingly use video footage to capture the impact of their projects and inspire donor to give.  You could be learning to add subtitles or music, produce voice-overs or format the video for different platforms

Volunteering has the potential to be really worthwhile for your NGO career and you have the satisfaction of knowing that it also helps the organisation make even more of a difference in the world – it really is a win-win!

Further reading

https://data.ncvo.org.uk/impact/benefits-of-volunteering/

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_volunteering_can_help_your_mental_health

https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/careers/2020/10/07/do-good-feel-good/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/volunteering-may-be-good-for-body-and-mind-201306266428

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/casp.2448

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