How to volunteer (even when you're busy!)

Do you feel a strong desire to give back but don’t know where to start?

National Volunteering Week in Ireland runs from 13 to 19 May 2019. Volunteer Ireland – our national volunteer development agency – wants to “to get people talking about volunteering” so let’s join the conversation!

Paul FitzGerald is an experienced volunteer and a board member of the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Volunteer Centre. I’ve asked him to give us some insight into what it’s like to volunteer at mid-career, including how to volunteer when you’re busy and the benefits of volunteering if you’re trying to make a mid-career change.

For someone who’s interested in volunteering, what’s their first step?

Before looking at what opportunities are out there, spend some time thinking about what you have to offer in terms of skills and experience. Also, consider what your availability is.

I have volunteered as a translator for The Rosetta Foundation and an English language tutor for Fáilte Isteach, who help new migrants integrate into the local community. Both of these opportunities draw on my language skills and interest in teaching.

When you’re ready, go to Volunteer Ireland’s website - - and use the IVOL search engine which categorises what’s available by Location, Cause and Activity. There are over 3,000 volunteer opportunities in Ireland!

Volunteer Ireland are very welcoming and you can talk them if you’re still not sure. Their goal is “to make sure that everyone who wants to volunteer, can volunteer”.

How much time do you need to volunteer?

Have you ever thought of volunteering?

Have you ever thought of volunteering?

It can be as little as an hour a week to a month to six months. There are also seasonal or once-off volunteer roles for anyone who can’t make a regular commitment.

My first experience of volunteering was close to home because I was short on time. My employer at the time sponsored Foróige (Ireland’s leading youth organisation). I volunteered as a photographer at various events, helping to capture the spirit of the day and supporting participants’ success. Photography has been an interest of mine for many years so it was a natural step to take.

Speaking of which, your employer may run their own corporate social responsibility (CSR) events which support local charities. For example, I’ve also volunteered with a team of colleagues to help cook a meal for 25 families in the Ronald McDonald House in the grounds of the Crumlin Children’s Hospital.

It’s great to work with people outside of the usual work environment: you get to know them in a completely different way. Approach your HR department to tell you who the CSR person or team is and what the opportunities are. There may be opportunities for time off in lieu. (Might be a good way to work volunteering into your existing schedule!)

Do you think volunteering can help if you’re thinking of a career change?

Absolutely. Volunteering is a great way to explore an area you’re interested in and can also throw up opportunities that you may not have thought of starting out. It helps you reassess who you are and what you could bring to another career.

You may be drawing on skills that you’ve always had but may not have utilised in your current role. You may find out that you get a lot of energy from using these skills. Volunteering gives you insight into what you have to offer and creates all kinds of possibilities.

The first step in career change is getting to know yourself and volunteering helps enormously with that. It gives you confidence because you’re trying new things and stepping outside your comfort zone, which is key when you’re changing careers.

Speaking of confidence, what if I want to volunteer but I’m shy or nervous?

There is a lot of support, from other volunteers and the organisations you’re volunteering for. People know you’re working as a volunteer and that tends to be appreciated. The other volunteers are always delighted to have the extra help and there may be shadowing opportunities so that you can learn the ropes.

Many organisations have a volunteer charter or set of guidelines where the expectations for volunteers are set out very clearly so that you understand your role from the beginning. The role descriptions are very clear.

And again, Volunteer Ireland are a crucial source of support, guidance and always willing to take a phone call or have a chat with you before and during any volunteering stint or opportunity.

What’s your Key takeaway for anyone thinking of volunteering?

You’ll get more out of it than you put in! Plus, you are making a difference. Sometimes, it’s the simplest things, those that don’t necessarily rely on a high level of expertise or skill; you’re simply sharing what comes easily to you. You’ll surprise yourself with what you can offer.

How would you like to give back? Perhaps you would like to share your own experience of volunteering. What would your advice be? Let us know in the Comments below.