These questions represent general issues about ‘getting started’, but they have a particular focus on special requirements, whether it’s about volunteering for particular age groups or virtual volunteering for those with a lack of regular time to commit, or problems with mobility.
Will volunteering affect my benefits?
The benefits regulations are clear that you can volunteer and it will not affect your benefit payments, as long as you meet the conditions of your particular benefit. However you should let your benefits office know if you start volunteering. For more information and contact information, read 'Volunteering while on benefits'.
How many hours a week do I need to volunteer?
As a volunteer you are in control of how much or how little time you can spare. As you think about volunteering, be realistic about how much time you can regularly commit to. Far better a weekly commitment of an hour or two that you can fit into your life than trying to offer an unrealistic amount of time that you can’t keep to. There are opportunities to match all levels of time commitment.
Will I need a police background check and what does it involve?
Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks (previously CRB checks) in England and Wales or Disclosure check in Scotland is usually required for any role where you will be working with children or vulnerable adults. You will be asked to fill out the form that will then be processed (usually at the organisation’s expense rather than your own). It is a method to ensure that you do not have any relevant criminal convictions that prevent you from working with such groups. Checks usually take only a few weeks to process and you should normally have nothing to worry about. The Northern Ireland equivalent to a CRB check is known as a POCVA (Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults) and is carried out by AccessNI. In the Republic of Ireland the process is known as Garda vetting; responsibility for organising this lies with the organisation.
What skills/experience do I need?
This very much varies according to the kind of role you are looking for. You may be surprised to discover that many volunteering roles do not need any specific skills or experience – enthusiasm and a willingness to learn often count for much more.
For some roles you will require particular skills or experience, but you probably have more to offer than you may think. For example, if you have reasonable literacy or numeracy, then you can volunteer as a tutor for children or adult learners. Likewise a driving licence, cooking skills or parenting experience are all valuable assets that you can bring to volunteering roles. However, in many cases organisations are simply looking for your time and goodwill, as well as a willingness to ‘muck in’ and get involved. Often any training you need will be provided on the job.
See Section 3 of this unit.
How do I find out about voluntary opportunities?
Your local volunteer centre is a good place to start. There are also organisations such as CSV and the Rotary Club that offer many different voluntary activities in the community, or organisations like Do-it or Volunteering England and Volunteer Centre Network Scotland.
You can find more details on the OU Careers Advisory Service website.
I am retired but still fit and active. Are there any upper age limits for volunteering?
Most voluntary activities have no upper age limit, but if you want details about specialist programmes, check out RSVP, the retired and senior volunteer programme.
I’d like my voluntary work to give me a social life with other young people. Are there any specialist organisations catering for under 30s?
The vinspired website, for young people up to 25, has a helpful list of a range of possible activities, e.g. befriending, buddying, driving, practical work, etc.
Finally, many voluntary organisations have their own FAQs, relevant to their particular areas of activity.