Advice to volunteers

At the moment, Heritage for Peace cannot accept any more volunteers, unless you are interested in helping us manage our social media, or able to help us write the newsletter. However, our work is constantly changing, so if you would like to send us your details (following the below advice), then we are happy to add you to our database, and we will contact you if we have any work we think you could help with.

Many organisations receive requests to volunteers, and we’re grateful to all of you.  However, as much as we would like to, we can’t accept all the offers we receive, so this advice is designed to help you submit a successful application, and answer some common questions.  We’ve tried to keep most of our advice general, in case you are also considering volunteering somewhere else, but some of it is specific to Heritage for Peace.

How many volunteers do you take?
Managing a volunteer takes time, and each member of staff can only manage a few volunteers at a time.  Showing someone how to manage even relatively straightforward tasks, such as database entry in a complex database, can take a few hours supervision each week until a volunteer is comfortable on their own. This means most organisations can only manage a few volunteers. In the case of Heritage for Peace, it’s even more difficult, as we are all volunteers ourselves, which means we do all our work on top of full time jobs, so we can’t manage training more than one volunteer at a time.

Do you offer paid internships?
As we are all volunteers, we have no paid staff, so we can’t pay anyone! We are also fully international, so we have no offices, and do all our meetings via Skype and email, which means we can’t take anyone on a fully supervised placement.

So how can I become a volunteer?
Offering to volunteer, or trying to find a placement, should be like applying for a job.  Look at the website of the organisation you are applying to.  Read about their projects, and think about your experience, and then write a covering letter that shows you have thought about the organisation you are applying to. Don’t forget to attach your CV. Make it as easy for the organisation you are applying to as possible.

Why do you want to volunteer?
Why are you offering to volunteer?  Is it that you just want to help a terrible situation, or are you hoping to build your CV as well?  What do you hope to get out of the experience? If you need CV experience, that’s ok – everyone has to start somewhere – but you need to be specific and realistic about what you need form the host organisation.

Think about our work. What would you like to get involved in? Why? What aspect?  Social Media? Fundraising? Writing grant proposals? Managing people? Delivering projects on the ground?

How much work are you willing to do?
A lot of our work isn’t very interesting – are you willing to do something that might be a bit dull, if we can help you achieve some of your goals in return? Be honest here.  For example, would you help us with social media management or database entry if we agreed to involve you in our next grant application?

Are you willing to learn new skills in your free time?  For example, Heritage for Peace works primarily in Syria – are you willing to read about Syria in your free time if it’s not a country you know much about it?  Or learn web design (we had to!)

Remember, we’re all volunteers, so think about what you can do for the organisation, as well as what the organisation can do for you.

Common Mistakes and Positive Suggestions
Don’t offer an unspecified amount of time
Do be realistic. How much time can you give? How often?  An hour a week? More? Less? Think back to what you hope to get out of volunteering.  Are you committing enough time?
Don’t just list qualifications and expect us to know what your course covered: think back to when you chose it.  You chose it from all the other courses for a reason – what was unique about it, and how did it differ from the other courses? We won’t know that.
Do tell us what you’ve studied, and how it might be relevant to our work and projects. We’re more interested in the skills and knowledge it taught you than the qualification itself – list your key skills and experience.
Don’t just write “I like your work”.
Do be specific. Think about what you want and how you could contribute. Write (for example) “As part of my MA, I have studied heritage and education, and I feel I could contribute effectively to your heritage education programmes”.
Don’t just say yes, even if it’s not what you hoped to do.  We’re nice people, we don’t mind, and we accept each person has different interests.
Do be honest with us, and if it’s not working out, tell us. Let us make it better!

A final plea…
Remember – volunteering is a serious commitment. A lot of volunteers get bored and give up and drop out as soon as they realise they didn’t actually have time, or it’s not an interesting as they hoped, but didn’t feel able to say.  As we are all volunteers, we have to find extra time to cover other people’s work to finish projects, in addition to our own workloads. We want you to get something out of this, as well as furthering our work in protecting Syria’s cultural heritage, so if there’s anything you’d like to discuss, feel free to get in touch.

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