In general terms, volunteering means donating your time for free to help a good cause or charitable organisation. Volunteering involves spending time, unpaid, for the social benefit or the broader benefit of the environment, society and/or the community. Volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual.

One reason is employability. 73% of employers say they would give a job to a candidate with volunteering experience. But volunteering is fun and beneficial to mental health, too! You can develop your skills and interests, meet like-minded people and influence the community as well as gain recognition for your achievement. There are also one-off opportunities if you don't have much free time. These group activities are a fun way to meet people and make a difference.

One reason is employability. 73% of employers say they would give a job to a candidate with volunteering experience. But volunteering is fun, too! You can develop your skills and interests, meet likeminded people and influence the community as well as gain recognition for your achievement. There are also special events like marshalling at marathons - the atmosphere on the day is always really energetic and enjoyable.

We have plenty of opportunities to choose from that are available throughout the year, including:

Think about what you want to get out of volunteering. Develop your skills? Meet new people? Get involved with your local community? Improve your wellbeing?

Answering these questions may help you decide what opportunity is best for you.

Yes. Only current students and recent graduates from the UoE can sign up to an opportunity.

As a student we understand your free time might be limited. Your academic studies should always come first.

  • For this reason, all the opportunities listed on our system ask for 15 hours or less per a week.
  • You could also join an opportunity with one-off volunteering. It's a fantastic way to volunteer without a long-term commitment.
  • If you're in your final year, studying for a PhD or a student parent, you may have even less time than other students. However we work to ensure there are always roles available that are short term, home-based, or one-off opportunities such as helping at an event on the online volunteering system. Try filtering your search by "one-off" opportunities by clicking on "Type" along the top of the search results. This might bring up opportunities during holidays, weekends, or at a time of the semester when you have less work.

We can offer roles that are exclusive to Students’ Association Volunteering that are tailored and work in close partnership with our registered organisations. If you browse the opportunities on our Volunteering Hub you can be sure that the people advertising those roles are keen to involve University of Edinburgh students, therefore cutting down the 'detective work' involved in finding a position. We can also provide advice about how to get recognition for your volunteering.

Although both are autonomous, student-led groups that work towards making a difference in the wider community, there are big differences between these types of groups. Volunteering Groups focus on hands-on volunteering opportunities set up by students themselves. In contrast charity affiliated societies predominantly engage with raising awareness or campaigning for external charities e.g. Amnesty International Society.

It can be as little as 5 days or a few months, depending on the provider. Once you have applied for a role on the Volunteering Hub, the provider has 5 working days to reply. If you need a PVG check, most of them are completed within 14 days, though can take longer if you are from outside the EU.

If you register as a Volunteering Project with the Students' Association, there will be a huge support system available to you. A lot of these benefits are also available to societies and sports clubs who register volunteering projects with us! Find out what’s available in our section on setting up a Volunteering Society or Project.

The Students’ Association currently does not engage with international volunteering opportunities. Please contact The University of Edinburgh Careers Service to find out more about volunteering abroad.

Before volunteering as an international student, read up on the visa regulations surrounding this. If you have any questions, get in touch with our staff at the Volunteering Service who will be happy to help. Useful links:

Email to let us know what kind of volunteering you might be interested in and we'll do a wider search for you. You can also drop by our office to ask any questions, Potterrow Reception, Monday to Friday, 9.30am - 5.30pm.


Why not start your own Volunteering Group or project! Go to our section on how to Set up a Project or Group to learn more. There’s plenty of support available to get you up and running.


You might also want to try doing a wider search yourself using the Volunteer Edinburgh Website Please note - unlike the opportunities hosted on our site, these aren't all tailored to students.

Some volunteering roles involve working with vulnerable people in the community. To be able to do so, you will have to become a Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme Member. If you don’t already have membership, the organisation you volunteer for may arrange this for you. Please see the FAQ section below about the PVG Scheme.


Vulnerable people include:

  • Children
  • The elderly
  • People with disabilities

Not all organisations advertising through the Volunteering Hub will cover expenses. Some funding is available from Students’ Association Volunteering Service to cover expenses where organisations on the system cannot. Get in touch with us to find out more.

Yes you can. The Edinburgh Award for Volunteering recognises students’ contributions and impact on their chosen volunteering activity and the community. You could also nominate yourself or be nominated at the annual Student Awards. You can be featured on our blog, Spotlight on Volunteering or receive a Thank You card for your volunteering.

You can drop into the Activities Office in Potterrow, 5/2 Bristo Square Edinburgh EH8 9AL for advice at any time between 9.30-5:30pm Monday to Friday. Email the team: or call 0131 6509 381

Volunteering involves spending time, unpaid, for the social benefit or the broader benefit of the environment, society and/or the community. Volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual.
Volunteer Worker Employee
No contract of employment Has a contract or other arrangement to do work or services personally for a reward (the contract does not have to be written) All employees are workers, but an employee has extra employment rights and responsibilities that don’t apply to workers who aren’t employees.
Usually given a volunteer agreement (but is not compulsory – sets out what the volunteer can expect from the organisation)
  • the level of supervision and support you will get
  • what training you will get
  • whether you are covered under the organisation’s employer or public liability insurance
  • health and safety issues,any expenses the organisation will cover
  • their reward is for money or a benefit in kind (e.g. the promise of a contract or future work)
  • their employer has to have work for them to do as long as the contract or arrangement lasts
These rights include all of the rights workers have and:
  • Statutory Sick Pay
  • statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave and pay (workers only get pay, not leave)
  • minimum notice periods if their employment will be ending, e.g. if an employer is dismissing them
  • protection against unfair dismissal
  • the right to request flexible working
  • time off for emergencies
  • Statutory Redundancy Pay

In UK law, volunteers do not have a legal status in the same way that paid workers do: they are not covered by:
Employment law
Legal protection for unfair dismissal
Equal opportunities legislation
Or National Minimum Wage legislation


What does this mean?

If something were to go wrong during your volunteering, volunteers don’t have the right to have an organisation follow proper investigative procedures or the right to appeal a decision made by the organisation.


You have the right to complain or walk away. We’d encourage you to submit a complaint first to give the organisation the chance to investigate and make improvements for their volunteers. Depending on the nature of the complaint, you may feel it necessary to submit it to the Police for investigation.

Other things to be aware of:

  • Be alert to organisations inadvertently creating an employment contract
  • A contract is a description of a relationship between the individual and the organisation and does not have to be written down

An organisation should not:

  • Create obligations for you
  • Issue penalties, for example, if you don’t turn up

An organisation should:

  • Talk about expectations of the role
  • Only reimburse out-of-pocket expenses
  • Only provide training relevant to the role

If an employment contract is put in place, employment law will be deemed to be relevant to you.

Not all organisations will be able to cover out of pocket expenditure for your volunteering activities. This may be because they don’t have enough funds. Expenditure includes:

  • Travel
  • Food
  • Protective clothing and equipment
  • Childcare

Ensure you know in advance what expenditure your chosen organisation will cover before you start volunteering and keep receipts as evidence for those that do.

Organisations may wish to give you modest gifts but do not expect to be rewarded. Organisations who decide to give gifts should clearly communicate why they are offering you a gift.
Organisations should only provide training relevant to your volunteer role
The Equality Act 2010 does not apply to volunteers in the same way as it does to employees. Volunteers are not covered by anti-discrimination legislation for workers but it is not acceptable to discriminate. It is good practice for organisations to engage a diverse range of volunteers.
All personal information you give to an organisation you volunteer with should be held in line with the Data Protection Act. This includes contact details from individuals that can be identified. If your volunteer role involves exposure to other people’s personal data, such as service users or suppliers, or other volunteers you must comply with the Data Protection Act. Training must be given by the organisation on Data Protection: how the organisations handles, processes and stores peoples personal data. Volunteers have the right to find out what personal information is held about them by an organisation. The organisation’s policy should cover: what information is going to be collected and why, how long it will be kept for, how it will be stored, how an individual can access information about them.
If a volunteer carries out work on behalf of an employer, the work carried out is not automatically the intellectual property of the employer as the volunteer is not in a contract of employment.
It is within the organisation’s duty to ensure that the volunteer workplace and activities do not pose a risk to their health and safety – causing physical, financial or emotional harm.
Volunteer roles where a volunteer will be in contact with children or supporting ‘vulnerable’ adults require that volunteer to undergo a criminal record disclosure check. In Scotland, this is known as the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG). They're undertaken to ensure volunteers don't have any impediments or previous convictions that would make them unsuitable for working alongside children or vulnerable adults, or which could put them at risk. Some organisations will apply for and cover the cost of this on your behalf. However, some may not. It is wise to check whether your volunteering role is eligible for a PVG as it may not be necessary for you to get one. You may be better applying yourself for a PVG that can transfer to relevant roles in different organisations.
Organisations who provide opportunities for volunteers should have adequate insurance to cover their volunteers and volunteering activities, including age groups.

Volunteers from outside the UK:

  • Students from EU and EEA
  • Asylum seekers can only volunteer for a registered charity, voluntary or public sector organisation
  • People with refugee status or exceptional leave to remain and their family members are allowed to volunteer
  • Students from outside the EU or EEA can volunteer if their visa allows it.

You should be aware of your immigration status and whether you are allowed to volunteer.

Illegal working rules relate to employment and therefore should not apply to genuine volunteers who are not working under a contract of employment.

You should be treated fairly and consistently in accordance with the Equality Act 2010, Data Protection Act 1998 and Health and Safety Act 1974
You will usually be given a volunteer agreement that explains:

  • the level of supervision and support you’ll get
  • what training you’ll get
  • whether you’re covered under the organisation’s employer or public liability insurance
  • health and safety issues
  • any expenses the organisation will cover

The volunteer agreement isn’t compulsory, or legally binding but sets out what you can expect from the organisation you’re volunteering for. It doesn’t form a contract between you and the organisation.



Volunteer placements, rights and expenses
Volunteering and the Law
Volunteer Scotland



Register with us and we'll help you advertise your volunteering opportunities to students to recruit new, passionate and motivated volunteers from the student body of one of the top institutions in the UK! There may also be an opportunity to run a stall at our annual Volunteering Fair.

Yes. Students’ Association Volunteering only support UK based volunteering opportunities. Roles that are advertised must be limited to 14 hours per a week (during term).
Be sure to read and accept our full terms and conditions before you submit an advertisement.

You can drop into the Activities Office in Potterrow, 5/2 Bristo Square Edinburgh EH8 9AL for advice at any time between 9.30-5:30pm Monday to Friday.Email the team: or call 0131 6509 381