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Putting down fires and clean turtles: how does the volunteering world function and how to become its part

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Startup Jedi

We talk to startups and investors, you get the value.

We continue to share insights from the “Volunteering” discussion group of Founders club startups studio.

Changing the world, feeling significant or going through a life crisis ― volunteering gives especially a lot of meaning now, when more and more people are thinking about this very meaning. We burn out, trying to have time to build both a career and a family, or, on the contrary, we have too much free time and nothing to fill the void with. In the volunteering world, perhaps everyone can enrich their lives. We figured out how this world works and how to become a part of it.

Volunteer organizations offer their members not only new meanings, but also quite pragmatic bonuses. The only thing missing from their list is your salary. But also this:

1. Entry bonuses

International universities welcome the volunteering experience of prospective students, although this is not a mandatory criterion. Participation in charitable programs for them is an indicator of how a person can show their leadership abilities and initiative.

According to a study, 70% of international colleges prioritize long-term volunteering in local projects. On average, universities count at least 150 hours of volunteering with confirmation from the organization. It is important to remember that it should not pass more than four years from the end of the volunteering program to be able to include it into the documents while applying to the university.

In Russia, for volunteering, you can receive additional points to the Unified State Exam. For example, in Bauman Moscow State Technical University and RUDN University add 3 points, and at the Moscow Polytechnic University
7 points. But conditions can change every year.

2. Travelling and language practice

It’s not so important during a pandemic, however, many international volunteer programs cover the costs of participants for travel and accommodation. For example, the UN is constantly looking for volunteers for overseas projects. As a volunteer, you can travel around the world, see a wide variety of "non-tourist spots" and test your English (or other language) for strength.

3. Increased lifespan and self-development

The American Psychology and Aging Association has published a study showing the link between longevity and charity. People who help someone for at least 2 hours a week have 40% less risk of high blood pressure than others. By caring for the environment, we begin to better understand the value of caring for ourselves: in terms of waste sorting, bad habits, good nutrition and sustainable consumption.

For many, volunteering can be a “reset button”. Volunteer programs help you get out of your comfort zone and improve socialization. Many adults find themselves harvesting grapes or at an animal shelter in times of crisis or burnout.

 It’s never too late to volunteer

No matter how old you are, there are always opportunities for volunteering. Volunteer organizations are unlikely to accept an underaged person, but helping a neighbor's grandmother or saving kittens is also for the good of society. So you can call yourself a volunteer on your own initiative.

If we talk about participating in charitable and other projects, then the preferred age is considered 35-44 years. By this time, the person already has a job and work experience, and is useful as a volunteer and specialist. Volunteer organizations are interested in how you can be of help and how good you speak languages. However, the majority of volunteers are women: in the world there are 57% of the total.

You can volunteer for years or 2-3 weeks while being on vacation. Activities range from restoring an ancient castle to saving turtles. LMTV-projects (long and middle term volunteering projects) last from a month to 1-2 years.

There are four main directions you can apply to.


Working with children, difficult teenagers, the elderly, inclusive volunteering. When it comes to working with people with disabilities, there may be required prior training.

In general, social volunteering often requires professional skills. For example, the VSO British organization especially values ​​professionals: lawyers, cultural project managers, doctors with work experience from 2 years and aged from 25 to 75 years. According to VSO, these people will be able to effectively solve the problems of the population living below the poverty line: train such people, educate them and provide medical care.


Volunteers solve the pollution problems in protected areas, parks and rivers. Due to the pandemic, many programs of this kind have been closed. For example, in the past, 100 volunteers from all over the world were selected to the Faroe Islands annually to clean and restore tourist sites.

You can monitor the population of plants as there is such a program in Greece. You need to work 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, and in addition to scientific observations, you will need to weed the garden and water the plants.


International sports committees attract volunteers to organize events. The most popular program is the Olympic Games. The next OG will be held in 2022 and applications were accepted from applicants around the world. It is planned to attract 39 thousand volunteers to the games, but the deadline for applications expired in June 2021.


Volunteers can organize cultural events, filming or provide service to art spaces. There are popular internships in world museums. The Natural History Museum in London invites specialists without work experience. In order to participate, you need to fill out an application and track offers on the website. In Russia, cultural volunteering is supervised by the “Thursday Fund”. Program participants get selected and organize exhibitions and festivals. A large list of cultural programs for volunteers from 18 to 30 years old is offered by European Solidarity Corp, lasting from 2 to 12 months with a full work week of 30-38 weeks.

Here is the list of positions you can get in popular international volunteering programs: 

The basic requirement for a future volunteer in international organizations is knowledge of one foreign language, a CV or application form, and a motivation letter. For example, in UNV, you need to fill out a resume and describe your professional skills. When a suitable program appears, you will receive an invitation.

What about online volunteering?

Due to the pandemic, many programs have been paused or are recruiting only local volunteers. But you can also be an online volunteer. There are whole projects that bring together NGOs and people who are ready to help remotely. In Russia, this is the todogood project. The organizers attract non-profit organizations with at least 2 years of experience and post requests to which the performers respond. In the world, the most popular service for finding volunteers online and offline is the VolunteerMatch platform.

Here are a few programs that search “remote” volunteers:

  • Volunteer-translator for the lawyer, who helps Russian-speaking clients who suffered from home violence.

  • An English speaking volunteer-facilitator for teaching programs with experience in organizing such kind of events 

How does the corporate volunteering work

Business is also joining the volunteering movement. For organizations, this means the loyalty of customers and staff, and a pluses in karma too, and for employees ―  additional opportunities.

Many large companies help foundations and invite employees to join the initiatives. The Society for Human Resource Management estimated that from 2014 to 2018, US companies increased the number of such programs by 7%, but after the pandemic, the number of programs is likely to decrease.

According to Deloitte and Realized Worth international agency, corporate volunteer projects improve the working climate in an organization. In such a company, engagement, income and interpersonal relationships between employees are higher.

Coca-Cola invites its employees to choose the volunteering direction: ecology, donation and others. Every year, all Coca-Cola offices hold a “Christmas Caravan”. These are inclusive holidays for children and adolescents with different levels of opportunity.

Charitable projects are not necessarily group projects which have to solve the problems of the whole world. For example, there is a Day of Service concept: those are days off when offices are closed, and employees can help local funds and organizations on account of their salaries. In the USA, such kind of days are already held by Samsung Electronics America.

And Microsoft launched the Collective Project campaign. There can participate staff and student volunteers from the local area. With financial support from the corporation, volunteers develop socially significant technologies. One example is inexpensive bionic prostheses.

Hidden pitfalls

It may seem that volunteering is so great that it looks more like a free vacation abroad. But it’s not that simple. The untrained people are often disappointed in the trip because of the pitfalls. Here's what new volunteers complain about:

Underestimation. Many go to the program expecting to change the world. But volunteers are often perceived as performers who are willing to follow instructions. You can start with short-term programs to get used to the rules of volunteering,.

The workload is too heavy. It often happens that volunteer programs do not have enough funding and they attract fewer people than necessary. Then the responsibilities of several specialists fall on one. This once again confirms that you should not compare a volunteer trip with a vacation. Most likely, you will be fully working 5-8 hours a day. And add the financial issue to that - organizations only pay a fraction of the costs. If you don't have any savings with you, it will be difficult.

Decentralized governance. Often, volunteer program managers cannot fully assign roles in them. Because of this, not everyone understands their tasks and the benefits that they bring on the project.

Things to remember if you want to become a volunteer

Fill out as many forms as possible. The more famous and interesting the program, the more difficult it is to get into it. And do not forget to master the language at the same time.

Prepare financially. Although the organization often provides housing and nutrition, this may not reflect your expectations and habits. In addition, many programs require registration fees from their members. For example, 2 weeks of volunteering in Australia costs $770 (but there are several grants for foreigners under the age of 21). Part-times may not be possible  during the volunteering work.

Be ready to work hard. For example, a volunteer for a popular EVS program may be sent home if they don't show up on time for work or don’t cope with work hours.

Remember: volunteering is not about a line in your resume, but about an opportunity to realize yourself and feel your benefit and importance in society. If your motivation is based only on material gain, it will not last long.


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