Being a volunteer can be a great way to make an impact whatever your age. You get the chance to contribute to worthwhile causes and offer help to communities and people around the world who really need it. And, volunteering is not just for the young. Volunteering for the over 50s is thriving because many volunteer organisations recognise that the skills and knowledge of the more mature volunteer is invaluable.
If you have got the time and enthusiasm, volunteering can be one of the most rewarding and satisfying things you can do. However, before you jump in with both feet, it pays to spend a little bit of time doing some research. Here are some tips on what to watch out for, which resources you can use to find suitable projects and opportunities and how to find worthwhile volunteer projects for yourself.
What skills and qualifications do you need?
Although many volunteering jobs do not require any specific skills or qualifications, one of the advantages of being more mature is that you probably do have some skills, expertise, experience and/or knowledge which you could share or pass on to others. One of the main motivators for people who choose to volunteer is a passion for a particular cause and a determination to make a difference but with your experience, skills and knowledge you can offer even more.
What types of volunteer work are there?
Although a search for volunteering for the over 50s on the internet will reveal quite a wide variety of volunteer work and projects, here are some of the key areas which may be particularly relevant to your experience and skills.
This is one of the most popular choices for people wishing to do voluntary work. If you are a native English speaker and have the knowledge and patience to teach a class of students then you will probably be able to find work in this area. However, if you are a trained teacher you will be particularly welcome. Some organisations also ask for a TEFL teaching certificate but in general this is not a requirement. Projects Abroad offer volunteer teaching placements.
Medical and health work
To do medical or health-related voluntary work you will need to have had some experience. Because of the constant need for help in communities around the world there is never a shortage of projects in this area of work. For starters take a look at Kaya.
In the area of nature or wildlife conservation, experience is not always required but it can be hard work. More important is a genuine love and passion for the environment and/or animals. Take a look at working abroad for wildlife projects from the Arctic to the Amazon.
Community/NGO development programmes
Specific skills or qualifications are usually needed if you want to volunteer for community/NGO (non-governmental organisation) development programmes. Do your own online research or start by checking out working abroad.
Get to know a different country
Another motivator for doing voluntary work is having the opportunity to experience living and working in another country. This may be in circumstances which are outside your normal ‘comfort zone’ so make sure you thoroughly research the country/area before you set off.
Beware of volunteer profiteers
Unfortunately, there are volunteer opportunities which are much more about making money from tourists than actually helping the locals. This is more prevalent in extremely impoverished countries. For example, an orphanage might bring in kids from neighbouring villages just for show. They lure in tourists, who have to pay large sums of money to volunteer there. The money then goes to the organisers, rather than to the children.
The most important thing to look out for when you’re thinking about volunteering is the reputation of the organisation. If a lot of people have volunteered and the organisation seems legitimate, then go for it but beware of fly-by-night volunteer opportunities.
Never pay to volunteer
There are some companies out there that will set you up with some kind of volunteer opportunity in exchange for a fee. These fees are sometimes modest, but can sometimes be several thousand pounds.
In reality, if you’re working with a real non-profit organisation whose goal is to make a difference, there’s no reason for them to ask for that kind of money. A real non-profit would be glad for the help they can get. They’re happy to have your English skills, an extra pair of hands and any knowledge you can pass on or anything else you can contribute.
It’s common for volunteers to be asked to pay for their own room and board and possibly a small administrative fee. But, if you’re looking at a volunteer opportunity and they’re asking for a large amount of money, steer well clear.
Choosing an organisation which specialises in volunteering for the over 50s
There are a number of organisations to choose from so here are just a few which specialise in volunteering for the over 50s.
For over 14 years GVI has been helping people aged 50 and over to fulfil their passion for volunteering.
Travellers Worldwide welcomes mature volunteers for the skills and knowledge they have to offer.
Projects Abroad places a great deal of value on their older volunteers because they say that with age comes a mixture of experience, skills and patience that younger volunteers often cannot offer.
At Volunteer Travel over 75% of their volunteers are 50 plus and so they design their volunteer programmes with this is mind.
Volunteering Journeys say that they design their volunteering programs for the over 50s to broaden their horizons, expand their mind and heart and add value to their lives.
From healthcare and business to lion research and conservation in Greater Kruger, supporting NGO development in Cambodia or working alongside young mothers in Peru, Kaya Responsible Travel has a wide range of projects to choose from.
Finding your own voluntary project
If you’ve never set foot in a country, it can be tempting to let an organisation handle the process for you. However, often the best way to make a difference is to do it for yourself. Instead of letting a volunteer organisation decide where you should go, why not go to a country and discover what the most pressing issues are.
Is it reconstruction after a disaster? Is it homelessness? Child prostitution? Or, would you prefer something less gruelling such as teaching English, conservation work or sustainable farming? Depending on your skills and experience it’s often better to work out what you can do to help once you’re actually in the country rather than trying to find something online. You’ll get a much better sense of what’s really going on and what’s actually needed.
Once you find an issue you’re passionate about, just ask around for the various organisations in the country. You’ll find dozens. Then just pick a couple and approach them directly.
The desire to volunteer is an incredibly pure and honest desire to give back. But before you commit, just spend a little bit of time to make sure that what you’re doing truly is contributing to a cause that will make a difference.