Volunteering during your gap year

Volunteering can be a fantastic way to spend a gap year.

By offering your time and energy to help, guide, advise, save, teach, conserve or restore, you can learn way more than any classroom lesson will ever teach you. You can volunteer on the other side of the world, or on the other side of town. 

You don’t have to commit for the whole year, and in fact most organisations that source and recruit volunteers have defined short-term programmes that you can become part of. Imagine helping for a few months, maybe learning new skills or even some of a new language, then heading off for a holiday for a month or two before heading home. Sounds great.

Volunteering looks fantastic on your resume or CV too. It shows that you are resourceful, energetic, capable, generous and have that element that employers want and value highly, empathy.

Getting underway:

All reputable volunteer organisations and groups have well-established processes for getting you involved. Often there is an application form, an interview and a training/induction programme, and then you’re on your way. If the institution has a large number of volunteers, generally the longer you stay, the more interesting and rewarding the volunteer work will be. Stick it out!

Volunteering is even better if it is close to your heart. The most important thing you’ll need going into a volunteering experience is the willingness to serve, care, and have a good time.

Volunteering overseas - see the world while helping others out

There are many opportunities for young keen Kiwi travellers who are not only looking for a fantastic and rewarding experience, but who also want to help in communities all over the world.

Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) provides Kiwis with a wide range of opportunities for volunteer work overseas. There are a number of volunteer teaching positions available throughout the year, particularly in the Pacific Islands. As most of these positions are for basic English tuition, little or no previous experience is required (great for school leavers). There are more specialised roles available as well, for those who are looking to focus on a particular subject or topic.

Go Kiwi Go organises global volunteering holidays in some incredible locations, allowing you to have an amazing international experience whilst helping out.  Go Kiwi Go has the added benefit of providing participants with cultural competence training, to help them immerse in their new environment. Projects run from two to 24 weeks, and people can extend if they wish, or move from project to project.

Another option for offshore volunteer opportunities is IS Volunteers, a worldwide organisation that supports sustainable development initiatives or projects. Their programmes see students travelling abroad to support sustainable development initiatives in nations such as Australia, Costa Rica, South Africa, Thailand, and the Dominican Republic.

Volunteering in New Zealand - there is plenty to do

Volunteering is not restricted to overseas travellers, and it can be a great way to give back to your community, meet people, and have fun. While it might be really tempting to head to the jungles of Thailand or the Pacific Islands, it is certainly cheaper to stay in New Zealand and try to help out and make a difference in your own backyard.

There’s a huge range of volunteer opportunities right here in New Zealand, and these focus on areas like sport, art, social services, education, and the environment.

Volunteering New Zealand is dedicated to providing you with a huge range of  programmes and openings for volunteer work across the country in a variety of different fields.

Sam's volunteering story

Blogger Sam Caughey has been volunteering since she was at high school. Check out how she got started and found her way to giving something back to her community.

Read Sam's story on how she started in the world of local volunteering- Volunteering 101

Here’s some ways you can volunteer and help locally:

  • Coaching or managing a junior sports team helps you stay active and involved, and there are always clubs and teams who are looking for support for all sorts of sports. Talk to your school to see if you can assist with a team. They may love it.

  • Volunteer to work on a helpline, or become a youth mentor. There is always a demand for assistance and the result of your efforts is a safer, happier community. Working as a volunteer with Youthline allows you to connect with young New Zealanders over the phone, and give them the care and support that they need.
  • St Johns is another organisation that can always use a volunteer, and you don’t have to be a paramedic to apply. There are a bunch of ways you can help, and the bonuses are that you can gain great skills while boosting your CV and potential employability.
  • Cultural Volunteering: Volunteering at the likes of a museum, zoo, gallery, library, archive or botanical institute can be really valuable to the cash-poor institutions that manage our heritage and history. And again, it can be hugely valuable on your CV.
  • Church groups are a good place to start looking, and many iwi will have trusts and associations that will value and be able to use volunteers.
  • Conservation Volunteering: If you love the outdoors, a volunteering project in the conservation field could be a great choice to develop your skills and give you a great introduction to the conservation and wildlife sector. New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DoC) has a huge range of opportunities to get involved in conservation projects, working both close to cities and in some of our remotest spots. Some of these projects need physical labour, long tramps and a lot of weather, so being a little tough and able is a real bonus.

Find out how you can get involved with volunteering with DoC

More info:

The New Zealand Trust for Conservation Volunteers

Conservation volunteers




Find out more about taking some time out