Yesterday I wrote about the value of volunteer managers putting themselves in their volunteers’ shoes. Today I want to explain the process that I followed when I did that – some of it is specific to our volunteer brokerage website, but the principles are the same with other systems.

The opportunities that this student needed to find had to give them the opportunity to gain 30 hours experience in a project or role which would either “get them in touch with the grassroots issues of peoples’ lives” or “stretch their leadership experience in new and untested ways”.


I logged into my volunteer profile, using the same email address and password I’d registered with.

Firstly, I edited my interests on the profile page to reflect what I felt were ‘grassroots’ issues – things people care about. We’re allowed to pick up to six categories, so I went with:

Environment, Health, Children, Community, Education and Literacy, Politics

I then selected ‘Matched Opportunities’, with a list of 115 to choose from! I spent probably about thirty minutes browsing the different opportunities, matching them with my personal interests and the criteria required by the students and came up with four most ideal selections.

New Leadership Experiences

  • Volunteer at an Easter / Summer Camp for seriously ill young people

Lots of potential for developing leadership – in running team activities like kayaking and horse-riding – but also in listening to the young people and supporting other volunteers.  It would be personally and emotionally challenging but fun and ultimately rewarding. An added bonus is that the volunteer would rack up 30+ volunteer hours in the space of a week.

  • Games Walk Leader – Planning and Leading Short Walks (<5 Miles) around the Olympics Sites

I enjoy walking. It’s a great volunteer role that ties in walking with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity running parallel to the Olympic Games. You’d have to think strategically about points of interest and analyse potential routes. You would develop verbal communication skills (including public speaking) by leading the walks and you get to meet a whole new group of people – all of whom have an understanding of grassroots issues.

Grassroots Issues

  • Providing one-to-one tuition for inner-city school students
It’s great to give something back and learn first hand about education in this setting. Through helping someone to achieve at this stage, you’re helping to set them up for life. There is a small danger that you would not be able to meet thirty hours doing this before summer – schools close over Easter etc. However, I think it’s still a great opportunity and I wouldn’t overlook it.
  • Volunteer Debt Adviser
You’d learn how people get into debt and what socio-economic factors keep them there. I think being able to put a human face and story to a topical political issue practically demonstrates that you know what you are talking about. You would also gain satisfaction from supporting people towards finding a solution to a deeply stressful situation.
As it turns out,  each of these opportunities gives you the chance to exhibit new leadership skills and learn about grassroots issues. That’s because you’re working with people, and just about every volunteering opportunity out there gives you experience of working with people. I think that these opportunities are great, but that’s because they appeal to my interests and previous experience. Most of the 115 opportunities would have met the criteria.
Before I would apply, I’d check each organisations website out for more information. Applying for each opportunity is simply a case of clicking the ‘Apply’ button at the bottom of the role description.
Sometimes potential volunteers can get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice available to them. Thinking strategically about it doesn’t take much time, but can help ensure that they pick the right placement.
*EDIT* – Volunteer Addict recently posted a blog about how to think about volunteering overseas – I couldn’t let it go without a link. It comes from the experienced perspective of Bec Ordish, Founder and Director of the Mitrataa Foundation in Nepal.