How to Write a Good Volunteer Application

By December 6, 2019 January 21st, 2020 No Comments

Throughout the past ten years, I’ve reviewed hundreds of applications that volunteers have sent in to be part of the YES. We need 100+ people to help run it, and one thing that I’ve always made a big deal of is not compromising quality.

The YES has always been a special event to me, but I’ve started to understand it differently with time. I used to think of it as a ‘gift at the end of the year’. If you do well as a volunteer and are active throughout the autumn, winter, and spring, you’ll go to the YES as a ‘thank you’ for your efforts. But that’s not what the YES is all about. It’s so valuable for the students and the organisation as a whole, and we need the best volunteers for the job. It’s not a gift; it’s a major responsibility.

Since we recruit volunteers from 25+ countries, it’s impossible to personally know every applicant. Despite being with YFU for over 10 years, every YES surfaces a ton of people I don’t know, and that’s a good thing. It means the organisation is moving on and the incoming stream of new volunteers is healthy. But it poses a challenge – I don’t know any of these people, so how do I differentiate between quality volunteers able to help the students and people who just want a free trip to Germany? The answer is straightforward: the application.

Why is this important

Being a volunteer at the YES should be thought of as a one-week job. If that description scares you, no problem. It just means the YES is not for you, and that’s okay. If the work we do at the YES excites you, then you’re the type of volunteer we’re looking for.

If you’d apply for a job you really wanted, would you send an unpolished email? I assume you’d talk about your passion for the company, how you will help it grow, and how good of a team mate you are. I assume you’d spell check it before hitting ‘send’. I assume you’d try to make a hiring manager so excited that she’d be getting in touch immediately.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read applications where I just knew the person didn’t take it seriously. To me, that’s a no-go; you’re out. Make no mistake: when you submit a rushed application, we know immediately how little effort you’ve put into it.

The key here is not the length of your application. Instead, we’re looking for something that can peak our interest, something that makes us feel how much you want to be on the team.

The YES is a tough event to volunteer at; it’s long, emotional, and it requires high levels of effort. When I read a rushed application, all I’m thinking is “If this person couldn’t even sit down for ten minutes to articulate why he wants to be at the YES, is he even able to put in the necessary effort required at the seminar?”.

What are we looking for?

I remember this young volunteer who applied to be a Freestyler a few years back. The competition was fierce, as it always is. But her application was so enticing, we’ve decided to bring her in at the expense of more experienced volunteers. And boy, what a good decision that’s been. Today she’s part of the YES community as a driven and passionate volunteer, and it all started with that application.

This is the type of people we want to volunteer at the YES – passionate, driven, and willing to put in the effort. Being at the YES is not a gift. Every volunteer can confirm the YES is a hard week – often harder than a full-time job. As a side note, what you get out of it is equally fulfilling, and we’ll talk about that soon.

To give you a hand when you’re writing your application, try to think about these:

  • why are they asking me this question, and how should I answer it so that I put myself in the best light?
  • how can I show that I’m passionate for YFU and truly want to be at the YES?
  • how do I demonstrate that I understand what the YES is about and that I’m a good team member?
  • how do I talk about what I can bring to the table?
  • for experienced YFU’ers: how does my volunteer experience relate to the role I’m applying for?
  • for new YFU’ers: how can I show that my willingness to work hard and passion for the organisation beats the experience of older volunteers?
  • how can I use my non-YFU/work/life experience to do better in the role I’m applying for?

If you write your application with these guidelines in mind, I’m sure you’ll do better than 90% of the applicants. Unfortunately, most volunteers don’t want to put in the work required. As a community, we’ve got to start understanding that being a volunteer comes with responsibilities, and writing a good application is the first step in acknowledging that. We’re looking forward to reading yours!