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Durham University

Careers & Enterprise Centre


Volunteering for a charity, voluntary organisation or associated fundraising/statutory body involves undertaking work that benefits society or the environment and can give you work experience in this sector. As a volunteer you should be entitled to reimbursement of out of pocket expenses.

Volunteering cannot be simply defined. It can be thought of in terms of the voluntary or third sector (i.e. charities, NGOs), where many volunteering opportunities are to found, but it cannot be defined as such. Volunteering England's interpretation is as follows:

“An unpaid activity where someone gives their time to help an organisation or an individual who they are not related to.”

Volunteering England

This definition is helpful because it means we can think about volunteering in the broadest possible sense. Within the confines of Durham University the term volunteer could very easily be applied to someone involved with Student Community Action (SCA); it can, however, be as easily applied to someone with a position of responsibility in a college or society. It is important not to forget this when considering how and why to volunteer.


Career choice and employability may not necessarily be at the top of your reasons for volunteering; indeed there is no reason why they should be! It is primarily about doing something positive and engaging in an activity that you consider important. Having said that, an incredibly useful by-product of volunteering is the potential impact it can have on your employability in the wider job market and your own career awareness.

In many cases volunteering will not be directly relevant to the professions and employers that you are considering. However, the transferable skills that you are developing, and evidencing, will be hugely relevant! Working in a team, solving problems, communicating information, organising events and making decisions are examples of the competencies that a volunteer might have to demonstrate on a regular basis. It is evidence of exactly those competencies that graduate employers will be assessing at application and interview stage. The PDP tool is a means of documenting this evidence during the course of your volunteering; such evidence can also contribute to our own employability bench mark, the Durham Award.


Internships and work experience placements are more commonly associated with career planning but volunteering can have significant career value. If you are considering a career in the development or third sectors it is essential to demonstrate a strong portfolio of volunteering because of the strong emphasis on working positively with individuals and communities. It is appropriate to professions such as social work, youth work, medicine, nursing, counselling and psychology. It is limitless in scope and consequently presents opportunities to engage in a myriad of different roles. Volunteering as a sales assistant in a charity shop is undoubted evidence of retail sector experience; volunteering in a hospital or care home is a fantastic foundation for health and social care professions.

Organisations, such as charities, that rely heavily on the support of volunteers are very often complex organisations requiring people with many different skills. Volunteering is often viewed quite narrowly in terms of undertaking front line roles: working with children, helping the elderly, cleaning the streets, painting a school etc. These types of front line opportunities are hugely important in society; they represent a fantastic means of developing transferable skills as well as relevant experience for graduate careers in sectors such as health and social care. However this is only one aspect of the voluntary sector in that organisations also need volunteers to contribute in areas such as marketing, communication, information, finance, fundraising, project management, research and sales. It is in this context that it is feasible to reconcile volunteering with careers in sectors, such as finance, that you may normally consider to be very far removed!