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student and helper laying bricks

Business student Liam McDonough coordinated volunteers for Live Different in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where he helped build homes for community members.

Why volunteer?

Volunteering is a great way to gain work experience, make valuable connections, give back to your community and build skills to boost your résumé. 

Career or personal development

  • explore different types of work
  • develop your skills and fill any competency gaps
  • make professional connections and references
  • gain relevant experience for your résumé
  • improve your language or intercultural abilities

Personal values (and fun!)

  • contribute to a cause you believe in
  • use your unique skills or talents to make a measurable difference
  • make new friends with similar interests
  • try something completely different from your area of study
  • spice up your regular routine of classes, studying and work

Types of volunteer work & examples

  • board and committee work: researching issues for a community association
  • canvassing: knocking on doors for a political candidate
  • coaching, refereeing or officiating: coaching youth soccer
  • conservation or environmental protection: helping at a wildlife shelter
  • counselling or providing advice: peer helping
  • driving: driving an elderly man to appointments
  • event and activity coordination: setting up venues at a music festival
  • food or goods dispersal: collecting food for the food bank
  • fundraising: applying for grants for an arts organization
  • healthcare support: helping parents cope with their child’s surgery
  • office work: spreadsheets, budgeting, organizing files, answering phones
  • maintenance or repair: restoring a washed-out nature path
  • first aid, firefighting or search and rescue: volunteer firefighting
  • teaching, training or mentoring: reading books with a child "reading buddy"

Popular sectors

  • education and research
  • social services
  • sports and recreation
  • health and hospitals
  • development and housing
  • arts and culture
  • environment
  • law, advocacy and politics
  • business or professional associations and unions
  • international 
  • fundraising and grant writing

Narrowing down your options

You can ask yourself some questions to find a type of volunteering that suits you and your goals.

  1. What’s my goal with volunteering (gain experience, make friends, meet people, etc.)?
  2. What am I passionate about?
  3. What special skills or talents do I have (music, languages, great with kids, etc.)?
  4. What do I want to learn from my experience?
  5. How will this impact my other commitments (school, family, work)?
  6. How much time do I have to offer, and how flexible am I?
  7. What do I not want to do as a volunteer?
  8. Do I want an ongoing, short-term or one-time commitment?
  9. Do I want to work alone or as part of a group?
  10. What kind of organizations am I interested in?

Considering specific positions

  1. Will I be reimbursed for any expenses?
  2. Who are the people I will be serving?
  3. What size is the organization?
  4. What's the organization like (dynamics, funding, politics, diversity, etc.)?
  5. Is there anything that might interfere with my volunteer work (logistics—no car, rural location, etc. or personal—shyness, language barrier, etc.)?

Where to find opportunities

There are tons of opportunities to volunteer right here on campus. Many of these activities are also Co-Curricular Record activities, meaning you can receive a record of your involvement for use in job applications and more.

Check out the volunteer postings on these sites:

Volunteering in other countries can help you experience different cultures, explore new places and improve your intercultural skills. However, it does present added challenges—safety, travel conditions, healthcare, visa and immunization requirements. 

Before volunteering outside Canada, check our working abroad page for more pre-departure information.

Many students use an established international volunteer or intern placement or service. Here are a few.

When choosing an organization, consider:

  • Is there a fee and where does the fee go?
  • Is this a registered charitable organization?
  • Does it target certain countries or needs?
  • Can I talk to anyone that has used this organization?
  • Does the organization offer a pre-departure orientation?
  • Does the organization have support staff in the volunteer country in case of issues?

Applying for positions

This information is specific to applying to volunteer opportunities. 

Some organizations will have no formal application process, while others may include:

  • an application form
  • a résumé and/or statement of interest
  • an interview (on the phone or in person)
  • a screening process
  • reference checks
  • a criminal record check, background check and/or drug screening

General tips

  1. Don't invest all your time into one volunteer application—application processes can take a long time.
  2. Don’t apply for every single position you see. It can be hard to manage multiple applications and keep the paperwork straight.
  3. Only apply for positions you're serious about and would accept if offered.
  4. Consider your references. If you’ve applied for ten different positions with the same references, they'll need to respond to lots of calls.
  5. Put the same effort into your volunteer application as for a paid position.
  6. Be honest about why you want to volunteer and show genuine interest in the position.
  7. While you may not have any related experience, your attitude, genuine interest and professionalism can show that you’re a good fit.

If you’re seeking a volunteer position that isn’t posted or doesn’t have an application form, you should include a statement of interest. Similar to a cover letter, a statement of interest lets you introduce yourself, why you want to volunteer and what you could bring to the organization.

Before preparing your statement, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why are you interested in this position?
  2. What is it about the organization’s mission or the volunteer description that attracts you to the position?
  3. What skills or experience are required for the position? How do you meet these qualifications (with examples)?

General tips

  1. Use strong action verbs to describe your experiences and responsibilities.
  2. Avoid vague clichés (e.g., "I just want to make a difference").
  3. Provide concrete examples of your relevant experience.
  4. Be concise—try to state your meaning as clearly and directly as possible.

When writing your volunteer résumé, take it just as seriously as you would with a work résumé.

General tips 

  1. Your objective should be concise and show a clear passion for the work you want to volunteer for.
  2. You may choose to lead with your volunteer experience and move your work experience further down.
  3. As with any other résumé, highlight your competencies and experience that are relevant to the position you’re interested in.
  4. Include any hobbies, special skills, training, or awards (e.g., music, language skills, etc.). Even if you don't think they're relevant—being well-rounded can be a strong volunteer trait.
  5. Include at least 2 references (with contact information). If possible, include references from previous volunteer placements.

Before you accept a position, ask yourself:

  1. Will it provide the experience you really want to gain? How will your efforts help the organization?
  2. How often and how long is the commitment? Will it impact your studies, work or other commitments?
  3. What specific tasks and responsibilities will you have? Do you feel comfortable with these?
  4. How will your efforts benefit you (references, free or discounted services, etc)?
  5. Are you working alone or as part of a group? Are there social activities involved?
  6. Are there specific dress requirements?
  7. Who do you report to? What training is involved?

If, after learning more about the position, you're not sure it's a good fit, saying "no" up-front makes everything a lot easier for you and the organization. Don’t feel pressured or coerced into accepting a volunteer position. 

If you decide to decline a position:

Politely provide written or verbal notice that you’ve decided not to accept the volunteer position.

Don’t feel obligated to provide a reason. You may wish to explain why you’re declining, but you have the right to just say "No thank you."

Thank the volunteer coordinator for their time.

If you’re turned down for a volunteer position, try not to get discouraged. Feel free to politely ask the volunteer coordinator for feedback on why your application was not successful—this can help with future applications.

You could ask:

  • What do you look for in a volunteer?
  • Are there any other opportunities available with your organization?
  • Can you suggest another organization or position where I might be a good fit?

Tips for a great experience

Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your volunteering experience:

  1. Even though this is an unpaid opportunity, treat it seriously. Always fulfill your commitments, show up on time and work hard. You may also be asked to sign a Code of Conduct.
  2. Be honest and up-front about your availability. Make sure you know what the expected time commitment is before you begin.
  3. Complete all volunteer training. If you miss any training, seek out how to make it up.
  4. Engage with staff, clients and other volunteers. This is a great chance to meet and learn from a new group of people.
  5. Respect any confidential information about clients, donors, team members or situations. Don't share this information with anyone outside the organization.
  6. Follow the organization's safety guidelines and policies around clothing, food, scents, smoking, drugs or alcohol.
  7. Provide your emergency contact information.
  8. Keep track of your experiences for future job applications. Make notes about what you learned, what you enjoyed, what was challenging, what impact you made and if there was anything you would change.
  9. Ask your supervisor if they will be a reference for your résumé, grad school, scholarship or grant application. Stay in contact even after your placement ends through email or LinkedIn.

You can choose to include your volunteer experience on your résumé in 2 ways:

  • in a separate volunteer experience section
  • as part of your work history

Things to consider when choosing where to list your volunteer work on your résumé: 

  1. Is it highly relevant to the career you’re pursuing or did it involve a considerable time commitment? If yes, put it in your work history.
  2. Is your potential employer community-minded or a not-for-profit organization? If yes, consider including a separate volunteer section.
  3. What did you learn or contribute?
  4. What was the relevance of the volunteer work to the job you are applying for?
  5. Did you win any related awards?
  6. What were the measurable results: money raised, clients helped, etc.?
  7. What skills and knowledge did you gain?
  8. Could you list your volunteer supervisor as a reference?

If you find the volunteer opportunity is not working for you, you should move on when it makes sense. Whether you’ve landed a full-time job, are relocating, or just can’t fit volunteering into your schedule, here are some guidelines:

  1. If you didn’t establish an end date when you began volunteering, give at least 2 weeks' notice just as you would when ending a paid position.
  2. If you're on a term or contract, do your best to honour that commitment. If this isn’t possible, provide as much notice as possible or continue until a replacement can be found.
  3. Try to meet with the volunteer coordinator face-to-face to wrap up a volunteer placement. If this isn’t possible, you can call or email (not text message—this is unprofessional).