Why people volunteer is a question that has been perplexing psychologists for years. As with most things human-related the answer is rather complex; it combines a need to ‘do something useful’ with the achievement of personal goals and the urge to see new places and meet new people.

A further motivation is increasingly being given, especially by younger volunteers. This relates to the use of a placement as a career boost – gaining experience that will put them ahead of the game in the competition for paid employment.

Testing the water

Turning up at an interview and claiming to be ‘passionate’ about a particular role is difficult if you’ve never experienced the role. Volunteering allows you to try out different careers, without having to commit to them full-time.

Employers are more likely to take someone on who has some previous experience, and who can confidently say that a particular career path is one they wish to follow. Voluntary work is especially useful if you wish to follow a career that is particularly competitive, such as medicine, conservation, advertising or fashion. Look into projects abroad reviews for more information and feedback from those who have tried the programs.

New skills

Picking up new skills while in paid employment can be difficult. Most companies primarily pay people to work, not learn. In a voluntary placement you are able to, and expected to, learn from others. Most voluntary roles are shaped by the volunteer – those with motivation can come away with a whole set of new skills. For example, a medical student on elective in Ghana will be able to enjoy a great deal of responsibility by working at an understaffed clinic.


Working for free shows commitment. It also shows that you love the work, irrespective of financial compensation. In stressful and relatively low paid jobs, such as nursing or teaching, the employee must truly enjoy their work in order to succeed and stay motivated. Previous voluntary experience shows an employer that you are such as person. 


Volunteering is a great way to build useful contacts. Working within an organisation gives you access to key members of staff, and the opportunity to impress them. As a volunteer you can also learn how to improve your networking skills through observing others.

By diligent working, you can sometimes secure a paid position. You will be the first to hear about new vacancies and may already know how to do the job exactly as it needs to be done. By volunteering you may also find that you are recommended for positions at other companies.
Resource box

Projects Abroad offers a range of diverse volunteering opportunities

Volunteer Canada
Volunteer Canada is the national voice for volunteerism in Canada

Government of Canada
Guide to voluntary work for young people

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