What Skills Do You Need To Be A Volunteer

Whether you’re looking to volunteer abroad or simply in your local community, it’s vital to understand the necessary skills that volunteering demands. 

Volunteering is more than just a charitable act; it is an opportunity to learn new skills, gain valuable work experience, and contribute to social care. 

In this article, you will learn:

– The importance of recognising relevant volunteering skills 

– The key skills that can help you make the most out of your volunteering experience

– How these skills apply in real-life volunteering situations

– The benefits of understanding these skills in both your personal and professional life

– Practical steps you can take to develop these skills for your volunteering roles

Table of Contents

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Volunteer

To be an effective volunteer, you need to successfully blend both soft skills and practical skills. Soft skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving are vital for any volunteer role. 

As a volunteer, you’ll frequently work in groups, which will require you to meet new people, collaborate with other volunteers, and sometimes even take on leadership responsibilities. 

Here is a list of skills that you will need:

Communication Skills

– Successful volunteers will be able to clearly convey information to a variety of people. This allows smooth coordination with staff and other volunteers.

– Being an active, empathetic listener enables volunteers to understand needs and provide better assistance. 

Organisation & Time Management

– You will need to be able to balance your schedule and manage various responsibilities. Strong organisation skills help volunteers juggle tasks.

– Punctuality and time management allow volunteers to fulfil duties without overcommitting themselves.

Teamwork & People Skills 

– Most volunteers work closely with others towards shared goals. Cooperation, collaboration and coordination are essential for successful team work.

– Understanding group dynamics and bringing out the best in people leads to positive volunteer experiences.

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Adaptability & Problem Solving

– Volunteer work often involves changing priorities and unpredictable circumstances. Adaptable volunteers can roll with the punches.

– Creative problem-solving is a useful skill as it enables volunteers to overcome obstacles and find solutions amidst challenges.

Passion & Dedication

– Volunteers need genuine passion and commitment to the organisation’s cause to be able to deeply engage with the work.

– Dedication to making a difference and willingness to work hard are the key attributes to an excellent volunteer.

Teaching Skills

– Volunteers may educate and motivate others through training, mentoring and coaching. Good teaching abilities help clearly convey information. 

– Making learning interactive and engaging keeps programme participants interested and produces positive outcomes.

Physical Capabilities 

– Some volunteer work, such as conservation, animal care, or disaster relief, can require physical exertion. Volunteers must be physically fit and mobile.

– Willingness to take on demanding tasks and push oneself shows dedication to the role and organisation.  

Foreign Language Skills

– Multilingual capabilities benefit volunteers who interact with immigrants, tourists, and non-native speakers. This allows for improved communication.

– Fluency in foreign languages provides access and deeper cultural understanding that improves volunteer experiences.

Administrative Skills

– Volunteer work often requires administrative tasks like record-keeping, documentation and coordination. Strong organisation and attention to detail are great transferable skills to carry out efficient admin tasks.

– Computer proficiency, including with software like Excel and tools like CRMs enhances administrative volunteer work. 

Fundraising Skills

– Many nonprofit charities rely on volunteers to coordinate crucial fundraising drives that support operations. 

– Successful fundraising requires planning events, persuasion skills to secure donations and networking abilities.

Specialist Knowledge & Skills

– Some volunteer work requires specialised expertise, such as legal knowledge, medical knowledge or trade skills. This professional insight enables unique contributions. 

– Volunteers with niche abilities can provide vital pro-bono services aligned with their professional background.

Enthusiasm & Positive Attitude 

– Volunteers’ interactions set the tone for those they assist. For example, bringing upbeat energy and optimism will encourage others.

– Enthusiasm for the role and cause is contagious and rallies support for the organisation’s mission.  

Confidence & Public Speaking 

– Interfacing with the public confidently as a spokesperson enables volunteers to fundraise and seek support.

– Strong public speaking skills allow volunteers to advocate for causes during events, talks and awareness campaigns.

"Interpersonal skills rank high on the list of essential skills for volunteering. These abilities assist volunteers in connecting with team members, understanding people's needs, and functioning effectively within their volunteer organisation."

Essential Interpersonal Skills for Effective Volunteering

Interpersonal skills rank high on the list of essential skills for volunteering. These abilities assist volunteers in connecting with team members, understanding people’s needs, and functioning effectively within their volunteer organisation. 

Another crucial skill to have is effective communication. As a volunteer, you must be able to communicate clearly with a variety of people, from the beneficiaries of your charity work to the volunteer program organisers. 

This includes both verbal and written communication, as well as active listening

Other essential interpersonal skills include empathy and cultural sensitivity, which is particularly relevant for those looking to volunteer abroad. 

Understanding and respecting cultural differences is vital in fostering positive relationships and ensuring that your volunteer work is effective and meaningful. 

How to Develop Your Volunteering Skills

The Role of Practical Skills in Volunteering

While soft skills are integral to volunteering, practical skills are equally important. These are abilities relevant to the specific duties you’ll be completing as part of your volunteer position, and they can be as varied as the available volunteering possibilities. 

For instance, if you’re volunteering at a Citizens Advice office, you’ll need a good understanding of the UK’s social care system as a basic starting point. On the other hand, a volunteer role in community development, for example, might require skills in project management or fundraising. 

Regardless of the practical skills required, most non-profit organisations train their unpaid volunteers. This means that even if you don’t already have the requisite practical skills, you can obtain them through volunteering, giving it an ideal opportunity to learn new ones.

How to Develop Your Volunteering Skills

There are many ways to develop the skills you need for volunteering. However, one of the most effective ways is through gaining hands-on experience. 

Volunteering itself is an excellent way to learn and develop new skills. Remember to look for volunteer opportunities that align with your specific interests and offer the chance to learn the skills you’re interested in. 

You could also seek out training programs as another way to develop your skills. Many charities and community groups offer training to their volunteers. This could be in the form of workshops, online courses, or one-on-one mentoring. 

Note that it will take time and practice to develop skills. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t master a new skill right away. Keep practising, ask for feedback, and stay open to learning. 

With time and persistence, you’ll become a skilled volunteer ready to make a real difference in your community or even abroad.

Weighing Up the Pros and Cons of Acquiring Volunteer Skills

When considering volunteering, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of developing the necessary skills. The following section explains some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with acquiring volunteer skills.

Advantages of Developing Volunteer Skills

1) Broadening Skill Set

– Volunteering allows individuals to develop a wide range of skills. This could include anything from practical skills specific to the volunteer role, to broader soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving.

– This diversity of skills can be beneficial in other areas of your life, enhancing your personal growth and improving your employability.

Enhancing Employability

2) Enhancing Employability

– Potential employers are likely to find you more desirable when you have acquired new skills from volunteering. Many employers value volunteer experience, viewing it as evidence of character, motivation, and commitment.

– In addition, the specific skills you acquire can often be transferred to the workplace, enhancing your professional skill set.

3) Personal Development

– Volunteering provides an excellent opportunity for personal development. By stepping out of your comfort zone and dealing with unexpected situations, you can build resilience and adaptability.

– Furthermore, the challenges faced and overcome during volunteering can lead to increased confidence and personal satisfaction in life.

4) Networking Opportunities

-Volunteering allows you to meet new people and broaden your network. This can open up new doors both within and outside of the volunteering industry.

– These connections can be particularly valuable if you’re considering a career in social care or the charity sector.

5) Positive Impact on the Community

– The skills you gain as a volunteer can help you make a significant impact on your community. Whether it’s providing advice at a Citizens Advice office or supporting a local charity, your skills can have a real impact.

– This not only benefits your local community but can also lead to a sense of fulfilment and purpose.

Disadvantages of Developing Volunteer Skills

1) Time Commitment

– Developing new skills through volunteering can often be time-consuming. This can be a drawback if you have other responsibilities or commitments.

– Balancing volunteering with other areas of your life, such as work or study, can sometimes be challenging.

2) Lack of Financial Compensation

– Volunteering is usually unpaid work. While you can gain valuable skills and experiences, you won’t receive financial compensation for your time and effort.

– This can be a disadvantage, particularly for people who are unemployed and seeking paid work.

3) Emotional Challenges

– Depending on your volunteer activity, you may encounter emotionally difficult situations. This can be difficult to deal with, especially if you’re not used to being in such settings.

– While support should be available from the volunteer organisation, it’s important to be aware of this potential drawback.

4) Uncertainty and Lack of Structure

– Volunteering roles can sometimes lack the structure and predictability of paid employment. This can be a disadvantage for people who prefer routined environments. 

– You may also find yourself dealing with unexpected situations, which can be challenging if you’re not used to such unpredictability.

5) Limited Career Progression

– While volunteering can improve your employability, it does not always result in advancement within the volunteering organisation. Opportunities for advancement or promotion may be limited.

– This can be a disadvantage if you’re looking to progress in your career or gain a leadership role.

The Implications of Safeguarding in Volunteering

It is important that all volunteers understand safeguarding, regardless of what environment they’re volunteering in. However, it is particularly vital for those working with vulnerable groups such as children or the elderly. 

It involves protecting people’s health, well-being, and human rights, ensuring they live free from harm, abuse, and neglect.

As a volunteer, understanding safeguarding principles can help you identify signs of potential harm or abuse and take appropriate action. 

Many voluntary organisations in the United Kingdom provide safeguarding training to its volunteers to ensure they are prepared to protect those they serve. 

Having safeguarding skills not only improves the protection of the individuals you serve, but it also raises your profile as a responsible and capable volunteer. Prospective employers, particularly those in social care or community service sectors, value these skills highly.

Developing Leadership Skills Through Volunteering

Volunteering can be an effective way to build leadership abilities. Many volunteer programmes, particularly those involving team-based duties, provide opportunity to assume leadership. This could involve coordinating activities, making decisions, and guiding other volunteers.

These leadership experiences can be incredibly valuable for a variety of reasons. For example, they can help you understand how to motivate and inspire others, how to navigate different situations effectively, and how to find solutions to unpredictable challenges. 

Furthermore, demonstrating leadership abilities can make you more appealing to future employers. Many employers look for leadership experience when hiring, thus this is an important talent to cultivate through volunteer work.

The Value of Soft Skills in Volunteering

Soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, are essential for effective volunteering. These skills create a good foundation for working cohesively with others, understanding their needs, and achieving your volunteer goals.

For example, as mentioned earlier we know that strong communication skills can help you build positive relationships with fellow volunteers, beneficiaries, and volunteer coordinators. Similarly, teamwork skills are crucial for collaborating effectively within your volunteer organisation.

Developing these soft skills will not just help you with your volunteering experiences, but also experiences beyond this. They’re highly transferable and can be applied in many different contexts, from professional life to personal relationships.

Volunteering Opportunities for Young People

You do not always have to be an adult to be able to volunteer. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities for young people out there too, from local community groups to volunteer projects abroad. 

These opportunities can be a powerful way for young people to gain valuable skills, experience, and confidence.

For example, a young person might volunteer at a local charity shop, acquiring customer service and money-handling abilities. They could also volunteer abroad on a community development project to learn international awareness and problem-solving abilities.

In addition to the skills and experiences gained, volunteering can also be a valuable addition to a young person’s CV. 

It can demonstrate to prospective employers that they’re proactive, committed, and capable of taking on responsibility, which can pave a successful pathway to a first part-time job.

A Case Study on Developing Essential Skills Through Volunteering

Below is a case study to further illustrate the importance and impact of acquiring volunteer skills. This real-life example should help you understand the practical application of the principles discussed in this article. 

Meet Tom, a young person from the UK who decided to take a gap year before heading to university. Tom wasn’t sure where he wanted to go with his career, but he knew he wanted to earn some essential skills and experiences. 

He chose to work abroad, specifically with a recognised work Organisation in a community development project in Latin America.

Tom’s volunteering experience was overall diverse and challenging. He worked with local community groups, helped coordinate volunteer projects, and even took on a leadership role within his team. Throughout his volunteer experience, Tom developed a range of soft skills. 

He improved his communication skills by interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds. He enhanced his problem-solving skills by dealing with unexpected situations and learned to adapt quickly.

Tom also gained specific skills related to his volunteer role. He learnt about community development, and project management, and even picked up some Spanish language skills. These existing skills evolved into transferable skills that Tom might use in his future profession.

When Tom came back to the UK, he found that his volunteering experience helped him stand out to prospective employers. His newfound skills, combined with his real-world experience of applying them, made him a strong candidate for many roles. 

He even caught the eye of a potential employer who was impressed by his leadership skills and his experience with the Royal Voluntary Service.

This case study demonstrates the significant impact volunteering can have on skill development. It’s a testament to the valuable skills you can acquire, the opportunities for personal and professional growth, and the positive effect on your employability. 

Volunteering may be a powerful method to build relevant skills and make a meaningful contribution to society regardless of where you are in your life or career.

Volunteering Opportunities for Young People

Key Takeaways and Learnings

Having explored the topic of what skills you need to be a volunteer, below is a summary to help condense the key points we’ve covered in this article:

– Soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving are essential for effective volunteering.

– Practical skills vary depending on the volunteer role, but most voluntary organisations offer training to help you develop these skills.

– Volunteering is an excellent platform for developing leadership skills.

– Volunteering can provide young people with a variety of opportunities for young people to gain valuable skills and experiences.

– Safeguarding is a crucial skill, especially for those working with vulnerable people.

– Volunteering can enhance your employability, making you more attractive to prospective employers.

Remember that the skills needed to be a volunteer are diverse and depend on the specific role. However, the benefits of developing these skills extend beyond the volunteering realm. 

They can improve your personal growth, enhance your professional skills, and possibly open the door to new opportunities.

Whether you’re a young person looking to gain work experience or someone seeking to give back to the community, volunteering can be a rewarding experience. 

As mentioned earlier, it’s not just the contribution you’re making that matters, but also the skills you acquire, the people you meet, and the personal satisfaction you gain from making a difference. 

So why not seek out a volunteering opportunity today and start your journey of skill development and personal growth?

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