How to Get a Volunteer Position

This is a step-by-step guide to help you apply for a volunteer position. Note that not all volunteer opportunities have the same application and screening process, but this general guide will help you get started. 

How do I start volunteering? 

Most organizations, non-profits, and charities ask volunteers to apply and interview ahead of time before you can start volunteering. Your first step is to find some interesting volunteer opportunities and apply to them.

Use Volunteer Ottawa’s Search Volunteer Opportunities page to find positions you are interested in applying to.

Here are a few of our members who often have volunteer activities appropriate for youth:

  • Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa – The Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa helps at-risk children and youth across the city. Volunteers work with youth after-school, on the weekends and during the summer to create a safe and positive environment where youth can grow and learn. 
  • Christie Lake Kids – Christie Lake Kids offers year-round community and camp programs to economically disadvantaged youth to help develop their physical, social and character skills. Volunteers can facilitate sports programs, work with children or volunteer as staff at Christie Lake Camp during the summer. 
  • The Door Youth Centre – The Door is a place where young people acquire skills allowing them to become adults capable of realizing their full potential and participating actively in their communities. Youth can volunteer as front-desk receptionists, staff assistants or kitchen help. 
  • The City of Ottawa – The City of Ottawa provides youth with all kinds of volunteering opportunities with the municipality, such as working in public libraries, museums or facilitating summer camps with the city.

Reaching Out

VO’s volunteer opportunities include the contact information of the relevant person within the member organization for that posting. Our Membership Directory also allows you to find the main contact for a specific organization.

Volunteer Etiquette Tool – Volunteer Canada – This document gives you a general step-by-step overview of how to find an opportunity, contact an organization and apply for a position, as well as ideas for interview preparation.

Applying through Volunteer Ottawa

To apply to volunteer positions on VolunteerOttawa.ca, you will need to sign up for a free volunteer account. Click here to sign up.

Once you have signed up, visit the Search page to find volunteer opportunities. When you find an opportunity you are interested in, click “Read more” and then “Apply to this position”.

Resumes and Cover Letters

Organizations sometimes specifically ask for resumes to find candidates that are a good fit for their volunteer positions. Learning to write a resume is great practice for when you start looking for jobs. You can list skills, professional experience and personal involvement, including extracurriculars and previous volunteer positions.

You can upload a PDF version of your resume to your profile on VolunteerOttawa.ca. This will only be visible to logged-in member organizations, and will be sent along with your application when you apply for a volunteer position.

A resume that speaks to your relevant skills and experience will improve your chances of getting the position. If an organization asks for references, you can always approach a teacher or family friend to ask if they are willing to give you one.

A cover letter is sent along with your resume to provide additional information on your skills and experiences, but also your motivation for wanting the position. Cover letters are not necessary for all volunteer applications, but a good cover letter can help you stand out from other applicants. Cover letters go into further detail about things like: 

  • Why you want to apply 
  • What makes you a good candidate 
  • Examples of your accomplishments and skills

View our additional resources page for more tips on writing your resume and cover letter.

Emailing

If you apply through the VO website, your application will be sent by email to the organization’s volunteer manager. They will likely reply to you by email to give you more information about the position or schedule an interview or orientation session with you.

Organizations can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to respond to applications, emails, or phone calls. The Volunteer posting on VolunteerOttawa.ca will give you an estimate for how long the organization thinks it will take to get back to you. Once this has passed, you can follow up with the organization. You can also email organizations if you have more questions, want to inquire about upcoming volunteer opportunities, or if you have your own ideas on how to help them.

Tips for writing emails:  

  • Make the subject line short and relevant, e.g., Interested in Volunteer Position X 
  • Keep it professional and to-the-point 
  • Proofread your email before you send

View our additional resources page for more tips on writing emails.

Phone calls

Phone calls are still an excellent way to get in contact with organizations. Non-profits receive dozens of emails a day, but a call gets you in direct contact with who you want to talk to. If they are not available, just leave a message with your name, phone number and reason for calling. Chances are they will get back to you soon.

Of course, phone calls induce anxiety for many people — especially if you grew up only texting, have social anxiety, or speak English or French as a second language. Practice and preparation will make phone calls much easier.

Tips for making a call: 

  • Think about your goal for making the phone call
    • I want to know more about your volunteering opportunities  
    • I want to ask if this is a position that can be done virtually   
    • I want to know if I can complete my 40 hours here  
  • Write down and practice what you want to say 
  • Take a few deep breaths before calling 
  • Avoid distractions and background noise during the call 
  • Speak slowly and clearly and ask the person to repeat themselves if you do not understand 
  • Walk around or doodle to get rid of nerves

View our additional resources page for more tips on making phone calls.

Other Ways to Contact Organizations 

It’s always best to contact an organization the way they have asked you to contact them, whether it’s phone or email. However, there are more and more ways to contact organizations online.

Text Messaging 

Text messaging is a popular alternative to emails and phone calls, but not all organizations are able to send and receive text message enquiries. Before sending a text message to an organization, make sure it is a type of communication they accept. When sending professional text messages, avoid using slang terms and acronyms — though the message is shorter than in an email, it should still be written in a professional tone.

Social Media 

An organization’s social media account can be useful for asking questions, but don’t apply to a volunteer position through social media messages unless the organization has specifically requested that method. Following organizations on social media is a great way to stay up-to-date with their volunteer opportunities and other events.

Video Calls 

Once you’ve contacted an organization through email or phone messages, you may be asked to set up a virtual video call as a next step. While video calls are not the best way to contact an organization for the first time, it can be a great way to meet and discuss the volunteer opportunity.

Tips for video calls: 
  • Test your internet connection, microphone, and headphones/speakers before every call. This will help you avoid technical issues and delays 
  • Whenever possible, keep your video on for professional calls. Unlike in a classroom, speaking “face to face” is an important element of a professional video call 
  • Choose a spot in your home with a neutral background or use a blurred background, so your surroundings don’t distract from the conversation 
  • Make sure you’re in a space away from other people for the call, to ensure the best audio quality