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How to Volunteer

Information for First-Time Volunteers.

So you want to volunteer. That’s great! Have you decided how to launch yourself into the unknown world of volunteerism? Here are some tips to get you started.

Step 1: Self-reflect:

Take the time to answer these three easy questions.

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What skills do you have?
  • How much time do you have to commit?

After reflecting, your passion for animals and photography could lead you to volunteering as an event photographer for a local animal organization. Alternatively, your reflection could lead you to discover other skills you want develop and different causes to explore. Self-reflection is a great way to frame your volunteer search and help lead you in the right direction.

Step 2: Do some research:

Now that you know what might interest you, its time to find an organization that matches. You can skip to step three if you already know were you want to volunteer. If you’re not sure, search volunteer matching sites such as or do an internet search of the volunteer area you want to pursue in your city. There are many organizations looking for volunteers so you could be overwhelmed with the results. However taking the time to search “animal organizations Edmonton” could very well lead you to discovering an organization you did not know existed.

Step 3: Ask questions

Once you’ve found an organization you like, contact them about their available volunteer opportunities. Be sure to ask questions to understand what the volunteer role entails. Here are some basic questions to frame your conversation with the organization’s volunteer coordinator.

  • What activities will you be performing?
  • Is there an interview process?
  • What is the length of commitment to this organization?
  • What is the schedule you will be working?
  • What flexibility exists around doctor’s appointments, emergencies etc.?
  • Is there any additional training or an orientation session that you have to attend?

Just like any new commitment, choosing the right volunteer opportunity doesn’t happen by accident. Be patient. Know what you want to give and what you want to get from the experience. Your first volunteer experience may be the beginning of a wonderful adventure.

The Benefits of Volunteering and What to Expect

The Benefits of Volunteering:

Volunteering is a way to give back to your community and impact the lives of others. The great thing about volunteering is that it also affects the life of the giver. These three benefits of volunteering may surprise you.

Health: Volunteering can have positive effects on your physical health. Volunteer Canada in their ‘Volunteering and healthy aging’ resource note that a study done of 500 volunteers over 30 years revealed only 36% of participants had a major illness compared to 52% of people who did not volunteer. Many volunteer activities involve being active and on your feet. Your physical health can get a boost just by volunteering.

Career & Professional Development: Volunteering is a great way to explore a new career path and gain valuable professional experience. Find a volunteer role where you can develop the skills you’d like to apply in your professional life. You can also list your volunteer experience on your resume to help you describe your interests and personality to a potential employer in a different way.

Social: Meeting new people can be difficult. Volunteering is a great way to make new social connections. The great thing about meeting friends while you volunteer is they probably share similar values and interests since you’re volunteering for the same organization.

These are just three examples but you never know what else volunteering might do for you, the benefits are endless!

What to expect from organizations when applying to become a volunteer

  • Volunteer application: The first step to volunteering is usually a basic application asking for your name, contact information, availability, emergency contacts and other information that relates to the volunteer role.
  • Interview: A volunteer interview is a great way for organizations and volunteers to learn more about each other. Volunteer interviews vary between organizations, but expect them to ask your motivation for volunteering and scenario questions related to the volunteer role.
    Police Information Check or Vulnerable Sector
  • Check: An organization may request your information to obtain a police information check or a child welfare check. A police information check is a screening tool that gives the organization information about your past criminal record. A vulnerable sector check lets the organization know if you have a police record of posing a risk to vulnerable people. Depending on your volunteer role, you may need one or both of these checks to ensure that you, other volunteers, and the people involved with the organization are all safe.
  • Training/Orientation: Organizations provide training and orientation to teach you more about their cause, staff and what you’ll be doing in your role. Attending training is important to get started on the right foot. Many training and orientation sessions are mandatory to begin volunteering.
    Volunteer contract: A volunteer contract is the agreement between you and the organization. The contract might include the hours you are committing to give, your responsibilities as a volunteer as well as those of the organization.

What Volunteer Managers Want you to Know

Did you know most organizations have a volunteer manager? This is often the first person you talk with at an organization. Their job among other things is to recruit, train and manage volunteers. Here’s the scoop on what volunteer managers want you to know about volunteering.

  • Screening comes first: Organizations must screen every volunteer to ensure the position is right for them and ensure volunteer safety. Processes vary for different organizations but expect to go through an interview, police check and orientation before you start a volunteer role. You can also use the screening process to see if an organization is right for you by asking questions and observing their practices.
  • Your skills and interests matter: Think of your skills and hobbies – you can utilize those in your volunteer role. If it’s not obvious how you can use your skills, talk to the volunteer manager about what you can contribute. Your interests might be the perfect match for an organization’s need.
  • The organization needs you: Every volunteer is a vital member of the organization. Being punctual and present at assigned shifts or events contributes to the success of each effort. If there’s an emergency or you’re sick, let your volunteer manager know you won’t be at your shift.
  • You’re appreciated: Volunteer managers want to recognize your contributions to the organization. They might host a volunteer appreciation event, send thank you cards or give a gift. You should participate in these events and engage with other volunteers. Your contribution matters!

Getting your group ready for community volunteering

"Employer-Supported Volunteering is any activity undertaken by an employer to encourage and support volunteering in the community by its employees."
-Kenn Allen (2012)
The Big Tent: Corporate Volunteering in the Global Age
  • The Benefits of Employer Supported Volunteering
    Strengthen businesses community relationships
  • Improve employee engagement
  • Give non-profits access to new resources and skills
  • Enhance and refine employee skills
  • Expand businesses networks

Did you know?
Nonprofit organizations face a unique struggle when large groups of volunteers approach them. Organizations with limited resources, budget and capacity find it challenging manage a large group volunteer activity. Nonprofit organizations also report it challenging to find groups who understand volunteering, desire to help
meet organization’s needs rather than their own and who are flexible with time and tasks.

Before you approach an organization or volunteer centre consider the following questions:

  1. What cause do you want to support?
    1. Talk to your team and decide on a specific cause your team wants to support. This will help narrow down your search and make it easier to find a valuable volunteer experience.
  2. Does the organization have the capacity to host teams of volunteers?
    1. How big is your team? Is it too big for an organization? Are there multiple days your team could volunteer by breaking up into groups to make it easier for the organization?
  3. Do my employees require screening or training for the activity?
    1. Talk to the organization and see how you can help them to screen or orient your team before they begin volunteering
  4. Does the proposed activity or program support organizational priorities or does it divert attention from their mission?
    1. Oftentimes organizations have to “think up” an activity for groups to do. Take a look at their mission and ask them what their biggest need is. Be flexible- oftentimes your volunteer activity may not be on the frontline but the impact of your contribution will help further their mission and cause.
  5. Is there a basis for building a longer-term relationship?
    1. Build a relationship with the organization and explore the possibility of regular volunteering and collaboration with your business

Resources & References

  • Leading with Intention: Employer Supported Volunteering in Canada — A resource that examines the benefits and
    challenges to ESV and provides examples of different businesses that volunteer as a group successfully
  • Group Volunteering: Key Resources for Groups Wanting to Volunteer — Tips for finding a group volunteer
    opportunity and other resources.
  • Canadian Institute for Business and Community Engagement — Provides businesses and non-profit organizations with tools and resources for corporate community investment, through a Canadian lens

Finding volunteer opportunities that fit your mold may seem tricky, but it’s easier than ever.

Volunteer Connector is the go-to platform that connects volunteers with nonprofits in Edmonton, Calgary and beyond! Pinpoint your next volunteer adventure by filtering according to your tastes, availability, group size, age, and more.

When you land, just make sure the dropdown menu on the left says EDMONTON in order to access volunteer opportunities in Edmonton.

Special thanks to our friends Propellus in Calgary for expanding their volunteer connector for use in Edmonton as well!