How can conservation volunteering help you?
Following the advice from Sarashka King’s ‘How to become a Conservation Volunteer?‘ Conservation Careers Blogger Hannah De Frond explores the many positives that you can gain from a volunteering experience, and why she would recommend it to anyone, especially those aiming to pursue a career in conservation.
You can gain many field skills in your time as a conservation volunteer, ranging from ecological survey techniques to identification skills (see post by Zehra Zawawi). These skills make you stand out from the crowd when added to your CV for multiple reasons. Field skills make you more appealing to employers as they show evidence of experience in the role you may be applying for – a key employability quality.
Skills also lead to achievements; how you used your skills to do something amazing. Achievements are what stands out in a CV, and what employers commonly look for as this shows that you can apply your skills to real life situations to create a positive or successful outcome.
Volunteering also offers a chance to experience the daily activities of an employee in the same position. This can give you a rough idea of which areas you would prefer to work in, the type of jobs you find most enjoyable, and which you are best at. Volunteering projects also provide you with detailed information and knowledge on particular conservation issues you will be working on. By increasing your knowledge-base this may encourage you to continue learning and to keep up to date with conservation news.
You can also gain some additional skills such as scuba diving, or learning another language, which as well as looking great on your CV are also enjoyable.
Getting outside of your comfort zone – Doing something different from your 9-5 job, or school /college /university work is great for personal growth and development. Anything you to do to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone will ultimately enable you to grow as a person. Once you have undertaken one volunteering opportunity it will become much easier to do so again in the future. You learn new things, meet new people, move faster towards your goals and are more likely to get exposed to new and interesting opportunities.
Independence and new friendships – Entering a volunteering opportunity alone can be a very daunting prospect. I remember the panic of ‘having no friends’ before starting, however this is the last thing that will be on your mind once the work has begun. The people you will be working with will have similar interests and passions as you – a great starting point for conversation! Personally I found it refreshing to spend time doing activities that I was genuinely interested in, with people who were just as excited and motivated as I was. Often volunteers, including myself, make some of their closest, lifelong friends on volunteer projects.
Organisation – When taking part in a volunteer project it often helps to be organised, especially if the job is overseas, as you will need to book flights, transfers and accommodation arrangements for the duration of your stay. Likewise if you have gained an internship or voluntary work experience placement, or even if you are volunteering to help cut back overgrown vegetation in your local park, you will need to arrive on time!
Experience new environments and/ or new cultures
Conservation volunteering allows you to venture into new, unusual and interesting areas of the natural environment. On my volunteer expedition to Mexico with Operation Wallacea I learnt to scuba dive, and after seeing so many beautiful marine organisms up close it became clear to me that not enough people get to experience this, and if they did I am sure that they would care a lot more about conserving our oceans and the species within them.
Overseas volunteering opportunities also allow you to experience another country and their culture from the inside. This can provide an eye opening experience as the country you visit may have extremely different cultures and values to that of your homeland. If you have not had the chance to learn the language beforehand, after living abroad for a few days you are bound to pick up some simple everyday phrases which can go a long way. Locals are often excited and grateful if you make an effort to speak to them in their own language.
Often overseas conservation volunteering experiences require a donation towards the organisation involved in order to take part. Unless you have saved money in advance, this means you will need to do some fundraising. Fundraising is most commonly done through events such as sponsored runs, cake sales, raffles or quiz nights which all involve communication, preparation, organisation and creativity, some useful skills to have.
Another option for fundraising is via grants and sponsorships from council bursaries, university grants or company, organisation or personal donations. Often this type of application requires some well thought out letter writing, in which you must convince the receiver of the importance of conservation work and the strength of your passion for it.
Most this is easier said than done, and personally I found it difficult to communicate my individual thought and beliefs into words. To help, the conservation organisation might offer guidance by proof reading your letters and giving helpful tips to increase your chances of success. Letter writing is a very common part of conservation work and scientific research in general. In addition to being a great academic skill, the process of letter writing for fundraising purposes can reiterate to you personally why you chose to volunteer and of your future ambitions in the field of conservation.
For many, conservation volunteering simply provides an opportunity to give something back, to help and use your skills for the benefit of other species. It can also be a way to contribute towards, and help within the conservation sector before you are able to land yourself a job. Volunteering can provide a sense of achievement, after seeing the difference you have made; be it restoring a habitat, raising money to fund a project, or simply helping a team out for a day, relieving some of the pressure on members of staff, and receiving thanks and praise for your work.
Importantly for those determined for a future career in conservation, volunteering clearly displays your commitment and drive to make a difference, and can prove to employers that you have a genuine interest in conservation, rather than simply liking the idea of it as a career path. Volunteering demonstrates that you can walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
Advice and networking
Volunteering with a conservation organisation can also be a vital and rare opportunity to speak to people within the field, so take advantage of this opportunity while you can and ask some questions! Ask employees how they got to where they are today, why they chose to work in conservation, what they like and don’t like about their job. Make note of their contact details for future reference and even give them yours, in case any volunteering or employment opportunities arise that they think you would be interested in. As the common saying goes, sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Last but certainly not least, becoming a conservation volunteer is an opportunity to have some FUN!
About the author
This article was written by Conservation Careers Blogger Hannah De Frond. Hannah has recently graduated with a degree in BSc Environmental Science from the University of Leeds, where through her studies she discovered a passion for conservation. After volunteering on Operation Wallacea’s marine conservation project in Mexico, Hannah hopes to gain a career in this field. Her main interests are in the education and awareness of conservation issues, climate change adaptation, and protected area management.