How to Volunteer with the United Nations

United Nations virtual volunteers make a difference from the comfort of home.
United Nations virtual volunteers make a difference from the comfort of home.
James Braund/Getty Images

If you're taking a second look at your career goals or just trying to find yourself, you may have considered volunteering for a humanitarian cause. Most of us have heard of the Peace Corps, but did you know that a related organization -- the United Nations -- engages thousands of volunteers yearly in more than 144 countries?

In 1970, the United Nations General Assembly established the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program. It promotes volunteerism and trains and mobilizes volunteers to assist with development projects run by United Nations partner organizations. Based in Bonn, Germany, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and its satellite offices administer the UNV throughout the world.

More than 70,000 people at any given time are in UNV's database, eager for the opportunity to serve in one of 100 professional categories. The typical field service volunteer is about 37 years old with five to 10 years of work experience. If the volunteer qualifies for an opening, he or she will serve for one to two years at a time -- the length of most UNV contracts, which we'll learn more about later. During that time, the volunteer may be stationed just about anywhere in the world you can imagine [source: UNV].

Another component of UNV is the online volunteer service, which matches more than 20,000 people with 2,000 partner organizations focused on sustainable human development [source: UNV]. From the comfort of home or an office, library or WiFi hot spot, a virtual volunteer can work with a grassroots organization, local government or UN agency. Virtual volunteers can do short-term tasks, such as designing a brochure, or lead a long-term project, like planning a hospital or creating a capital funding plan. He or she could even blog a few hours a week for a charity.

Only a fortunate few land the coveted UN internship. Before we find out why, let's get the details on how to volunteer with the United Nations.