Frequently Asked Questions

For volunteers

General information

What is vostel.de?

vostel.de is an online platform for volunteers and non-profits connecting individuals with charitable organisations in need of support. Please note that vostel.de is not the social organisation or initiator of the social projects itself, but rather acts as a matchmaker between those who want to get involved and non-profit organisations looking to recruit volunteers for their ongoing projects or short-term assignments. Since our founding in 2015, we have been able to match more than 9,000 committed individuals with more than 300 partner organisations in Berlin, Cologne, Munich and the Frankfurt area through our vostel-o-mat. Our long-term objective is to deploy vostel.de throughout Germany.

What can I find on vostel.de?

On vostel.de, you will find social projects in Berlin, Munich, Cologne and the Frankfurt (Main) area in need of short-term (one-off) or regular support (e.g. several times a month). Note: None of organisations listed on vostel.de is looking for full-time volunteers (e.g. gap year volunteers) or interns! The volunteering opportunities on vostel.de range e.g. from language practice meetups with refugees and upcycling activities to support in hospice care.

Does vostel.de list voluntary work programmes (e.g. voluntary social years, work camps etc.) or volunteer abroad opportunities?

You won't find any voluntary work programmes on vostel.de. This means that none of our partner organisations on vostel.de is looking for full-time volunteers, e.g. in the framework of a state-funded voluntary social year (FSJ) or a volunteer abroad programme. It also means that we can neither support you with searching for a corresponding programme nor with issues like searching for accommodation. 

Can vostel.de help me to get a visa?

Neither we at vostel.de nor our partner organisations listed on vostel.de are looking for full-time volunteers. As we do not arrange classical volunteer programmes, we cannot help you obtain a visa.

Do I have to pay to use vostel.de?

Using vostel.de is completely free of charge for individuals and non-profit organisations. Employees who wish to participate in a corporate volunteering programme initiated by their employer, however, cannot use vostel.de free of charge.

Is there an age requirement to volunteer with vostel.de?

This depends on the individual project. Some of our partner organisations require that their volunteers are at least 18 years of age – especially if the non-profit deals with emotionally challenging issues (e.g. severely ill or dying people) or if the project takes place late in the evening or even at night and is thus not adequate for underage volunteers. If you are unsure, just ask us for advice: volunteering@vostel.de.

In which cities does vostel.de exist?

At present, vostel is operating in Berlin, Munich, Cologne and the Frankfurt am Main region. We are planning to open up our services in even more cities in the near future. Sign up to our newsletter or follow us on our social media channels including FacebookInstagramLinkedIn and Twitter to stay up to date and be the first to know when we are coming to your city!

Can I make a donation via vostel.de?

On vostel.de, you will find a number of social organisations that welcome in-kind donations. As a registered volunteer on vostel.de, you can see the donation requests of our partner organisations in your user area and can contact them directly. This way, you can donate things that are actually needed or give your unused items a new value. Note: You cannot post donation offers; you can only respond to the donation requests of our partner organisations.

Getting started with volunteering

How do I find a suitable project on vostel.de?

You can use our vostel-o-mat to filter the volunteering opportunities listed on vostel.de. For example, you can easily search by location and look for interesting projects in your city. You can also specify whether you want to get involved on a specific date or during a certain period, whether you have time during the day or in the evening and how well you speak German. Lastly, you can specify your preferred target group (e.g. children) and/or cause area (e.g. art & culture). Once you have set all the filters, a list of volunteering opportunities that match your interests and preferences will appear. After a quick registration on vostel.de, you can get in touch with the organisation(s) of your choice.

I found a suitable project on vostel.de. What are the next steps?

The way in which contact is initiated with the organisations differs depending on the project. For some – mostly short-term – projects you can simply sign up on the platform and directly turn up for your shift. For others, the organisation will invite you to an open intro session/information event first to tell you more about the project. Most of our partner organisations prefer to be contacted directly via the message form. Details on how to initiate contact with each organisation can be found in the project description.

I signed up for a volunteering activity but didn't get a confirmation mail. What's the reason for that?

Have a look in your spam folder or in your bin (some email providers delete spam immediately). If the email isn't there, please contact us at volunteering@vostel.de.

I can no longer take part in the project I signed up for. How and until when can I cancel?

The earlier, the better. Our project partners really count on your help! If you have signed up for an activity on a specific date, simply click the "Cancel registration" button in your user area or in the briefing email we sent you. If you have already been in contact with the organisation, please inform them directly.

Getting involved via vostel.de

I have questions about my volunteer assignment. Who should I contact?

Please note that vostel.de is a matchmaking platform connecting volunteers and non-profits, and not the social organisation or initiator of the social projects itself. We bring together people who want to get involved and non-profit organisations looking to recruit volunteers for their ongoing projects or short-term assignments.

You can contact our team at volunteering@vostel.de for general questions relating to your commitment on vostel.de and for assistance with the actual platform.

If you have signed up for a volunteering activity on a specific date and have any project-related questions, please contact the relevant non-profit organisation directly. You will find the responsible contact person in the briefing email you received when signing up for the project. Some organisations can also be contacted directly via our platform.

Can I bring friends to activities I have signed up for?

Of course, you can volunteer together with your friends. All they have to do is register on vostel.de and sign up for the relevant activity. This helps the organisation plan and manage its activities in advance.

Can I volunteer for more than one project at once?

We are glad that you are excited about the prospects of volunteering and that you want to give something back to society. However, from our experience, we can tell that it is better to check out one project after the other. Furthermore, we generally advise our vostel newbies to sign up for only one date in the beginning in order to get to know the project and the organisation and to pick more dates after your first positive experience.

On vostel.de, you can register for a maximum of three projects at the same time.

I enjoyed my volunteer experience and would like to volunteer for the same project again. Do I need to sign up via vostel.de again?

If you haven’t already agreed on your next shift with the project organisers, please sign up via vostel.de again. This is the only way the organisations can keep track of how many volunteers come to each shift and make sure your help is really needed on that day.

I speak little to no German. Is that a problem?

No, our database lists a whole lot of projects where either no or just some basic German skills are needed (the rest is labelled accordingly). We recommend that you filter the volunteering opportunities in our vostel-o-mat by language skills.

Am I insured during the project?

For most projects, you are automatically covered in case of accidents and/or third party loss or injury. This is also marked in the project description. If insurance is not included, please make sure you own a valid private accident and liability insurance before starting your first volunteer job.

Can I get a volunteer certificate?

When applying for a job or traineeship, it can be useful to provide evidence of your volunteer activities. To obtain a volunteer certificate after your assignment, simply approach us or the organisation you worked for.

Criminal Record Certificate and Health Certificate (“Red Card”)

Why do I need a criminal record certificate?

A criminal record certificate ("Führungszeugnis") is an extract from the Federal Central 
Criminal Register. It proves that you do not have a history of criminal offences. Volunteers 
are often required to provide such a certificate when working with children and adolescents. 
In this case, you even need an enhanced criminal record certificate ("erweitertes 
Führungszeugnis"). Before you can apply for this document, the social organisation you 
want to volunteer for will need to provide you with a letter.

How do I request an enhanced criminal record certificate if I'm registered in Germany?

You will find all the information required to request your criminal record here (in German). Whether you need a criminal record certificate for your volunteering activity will be communicated by the organisation you wish to work for. They will also support you with the application.

How do I request an enhanced criminal record certificate if I'm NOT registered in Germany (other EU country)?

If you're not registered in Germany, it's a little more complicated. The German Federal Office of Justice has signed agreements with some European countries which make it possible to request a criminal record check in your country of origin. In this case, you will obtain a European criminal record certificate ("Europäisches Führungszeugnis"). For further information, please contact the Federal Office of Justice:

Bundesamt für Justiz
– Bundeszentralregister –
Adenauerallee 99 - 103
53113 Bonn

Opening Hours
Monday-Thursday: 07:30-16:00
Friday 07:30-14:00

Telephone number
+49 228 99 410-40

Why do I need a health certificate ("Red Card") and how do I get it?

You need the health certificate (also called "Red Card") for all projects that bring you in contact with food – even if you are only responsible for its distribution and not for food processing. Check the project description on vostel.de to find out whether you need a health certificate or not.

You will receive a short training focusing on hygiene, how to deal with food correctly and how to recognize symptoms of disease.

While the general health certificate costs 20 euros in Berlin, you can also apply for a free certificate that is only valid for the organisation where you will volunteer.

To apply for a health certificate, follow the steps below:

  1. For the free certificate, get a confirmation from the organisation where you plan to volunteer.
  2. Take your written confirmation (or the money) and an official ID to the local health authority that is responsible for the respective organisation. You will often find this information on the website of your city.
  3. The training will last for about one hour and includes a short 20 min. video, the distribution of relevant documents and a short presentation.
  4. Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a "Red Card"!
  5. Don't forget to take your health certificate to your first volunteering mission.

I have more questions. Is there a chance to reach you personally?

Sure, on our contact page you will find the right person for your needs and can get in touch with them directly. You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. In addition, we have a monthly newsletter to keep you up to date on the latest volunteering opportunities and open positions.

The theory of volunteering

What exactly is the difference between the German volunteering terms "Ehrenamt", "soziales Engagement", "bürgerschaftliches Engagement" and "Freiwilligenarbeit"?

The more types of volunteer work there are, the more diverse the definitions for it become. While the different German volunteering terms are not always clear-cut, each has a very clear focus. To make sure that you will not only find the right volunteering opportunity on vostel.de, but also know the right term for it, we would like to give you a brief overview of the different notions.

Ehrenamt

In Germany, the classical form of volunteering referring to all sorts of voluntary activities is called "Ehrenamt". However, nowadays this notion does not seem to be fully adequate any more. If you break down the word "Ehrenamt" you get "Ehre" and "Amt", which mean "honour" and "office". As such, volunteering is understood as an honourable position which people are typically elected for, as is the case in sports clubs or citizen representation. The unpaid activity is carried out publicly, intended to benefit third parties and of a long-term nature. The volunteers identify with their work and may even have grown up with the organisation they support. If you are elected treasurer in your sports club, this would be a typical "Ehrenamt".
Today, this work has shifted, and volunteers tend to get involved on a project-by-project basis. That's why "Ehrenamtler" are becoming increasingly rare these days, although organisations would often prefer long-term voluntary helpers.

Soziales/ gemeinnütziges Engagement

This term refers to any social or charitable activity that benefits the general public and where time or money is donated. vostel.de offers you the possibility to donate your time for a good cause through unpaid voluntary work. The public character of your activity is also important here because strictly speaking it does not count as "soziales Engagement" if you occasionally support a neighbour or a family member in carrying the groceries. Instead, you may be working in a soup kitchen as part of an organisation.

Bürgerschaftliches Engagement

"Bürgerschaftliches Engagement", which can be translated as civic engagement, has its core in the above-mentioned "gemeinnütziges Engagement", but it is more political. Citizens are, for example, acting alone or together to protect the implementation of laws or human rights. They actively take part in the political process and stand up for their convictions. A good example of this is organising, but also participating in, public demonstrations.

Freiwilligenarbeit/ Freiwilligendienste (BFD, FSJ, FÖJ, FKJ, etc.)

In recent years, many young Germans have been taking a gap year after school in order to get involved as a volunteer and acquire key competences for their future career. The so-called Voluntary Social Year ("Freiwilliges Jahr") and Federal Volunteers Service ("Bundesfreiwilligendienst") have replaced the "Zivildienst" in Germany, which was the alternative service to military service until the suspension of conscription in 2011.
During this voluntary year, which can last between six months and two years, the volunteers attend accompanying events to share their experiences with other volunteers. For their work, the volunteers are often provided with accommodation, meals and pocket money. A contract is signed, and the volunteers spend their time in a welfare institution accredited by the state or federal government.
During a voluntary year, you can get involved in various social, cultural or ecological areas. This is then called voluntary social year (FSJ, Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr), voluntary cultural year (FKJ, Freiwilliges Kulturelles Jahr) or voluntary ecological year (FÖJ, Freiwilliges Ökologisches Jahr). The Federal Volunteers Service (BFD) also offers the possibility for specialisation.
A voluntary year can also have advantages when applying for universities or colleges. For example, the volunteer work can be credited as an internship.

Which of the above can I find on vostel.de?

On our platform, you will find volunteering opportunities in a wide variety of organisations. For some of our partners, it is totally fine if you only volunteer for a short period; others prefer long-term commitments. In addition, on vostel.de, we want to give everyone the chance to get involved and make a difference in local volunteering projects – regardless of what language they speak or how much time they have. That's why you'll find short and long-term volunteering projects as well as possibilities for civic engagement on our platform.
Please note that none of our partner organisations on vostel.de is looking for full-time volunteers.

For organisations

General

What exactly does vostel do?

Through our platform launched in 2015, we connect non-profit organisations in need of support and manpower, with people looking for volunteer activities. Our platform lists social, ecological and cultural projects that interested volunteers can sign up for. We work together with more than 400 non-profit organisations in Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Frankfurt Main, Wiesbaden, and Darmstadt.

Are only non-profit organisations eligible to find volunteers on vostel.de?

vostel offers support in finding volunteers to all non-profit organisations and initiatives i.e. all those organisations that are legally defined as „gemeinnützig. ” If your organisation is not defined as charitable according to German law but your mission nevertheless adds value to society, we decide on a case-by-case basis.

Do I have to pay to use vostel.de?

The use of our homepage, our platform and our services is completely free of charge for non-profit organisations and initiatives. Our costs (especially for staff and the development of our platform) are covered through our Corporate Volunteering program.

In which cities does vostel.de exist?

For the moment, vostel.de exists in Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Frankurt Main, Darmstadt, and WIesbaden. If you think vostel should also be available in your area, get in touch. We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Finding Volunteers

How does vostel.de support us in finding volunteers?

After registering your organisation on vostel.de, you can go ahead and publish your projects that are in need of volunteers. You define the dates and chose the number of volunteers needed for a certain mission or for a first get-together. If you prefer getting to know the possible volunteers personally in advance, pick a date for an “Intro Session” or leave your contact details so that potential volunteers can get in touch with you easily.

Who are the volunteers on vostel.de?

In our pool of volunteers you can find people of various backgrounds, with different interests and language skills. Some of our volunteers are native Germans, many bring along good German skills, some none at all. Always indicate the level of German the volunteers should have for your missions.
Volunteers speaking relatively rare foreign languages might be particularly valuable for your organisation and projects: Arabic speakers with good English skills could help out as translators for projects with refugees for example.

Are the volunteers insured during the project?

Most organisations offer insurance (usually an accident and casualty insurance) for their volunteers. If the volunteers are not insured through your organisation, we advise you to request a written confirmation that they own a valid private accident and casualty insurance. In the unlikely event of an accident or the-like, you cannot be held responsible.

Corporate Volunteering

Do you support us in cooperation with companies (Corporate Volunteering)?

We organise so called Social Days with non-profits and corporations in Berlin where groups of 10 to 50 employees support you with different activities lasting from a couple of hours or half a day to one full day. The tasks can be very different ranging from for instance gardening, renovations or moving to cleaning-up and decluttering. They can also include playing with children, crafting, leading workshops or organising excursions and sport activities.
Social Days are organised based on demand and in close contact with you. During the Social Day(s), at least one vostel team member will accompany you dealing with the corporate volunteers, so that you can go about your daily business as much as possible. We are aware that group projects always incur costs (for example for the construction of certain objects). For that reason for every Social Day we make calls for financial and/or physical donations within the respective corporations that we forward directly to you.