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 10,000 committed individuals with more than 450 partner organisations in Berlin, Cologne, Munich and the Frankfurt area with the help of our various volunteering opportunities. 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 filter all the diverse volunteering opportunities on vostel.de to find the perfect project for yourself. 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?

With the volunteering platform vostel.de, organisations can find and manage volunteers since its foundation in 2015. As an organisation employee you can easily sign up your organisation on vostel.de and publish your volunteering opportunities by yourself. Our team advises and supports you in the entire process and advertises the published volunteering opportunities on social media as well as in our network.

There are currently 460 social organisations, projects and initiatives as well as over 11.000 volunteers in over 6 locations registered on vostel.de. In addition to private volunteers, we also support companies in planning, organising and implementing their corporate volunteering programmes, and in the search for volunteering opportunities for their employees.

In which cities does vostel.de exist?

Currently vostel.de is located in Berlin, Darmstadt, in the Frankfurt am Main region, in Cologne, in the Munich region and in Wiesbaden. From December, the platform will also be available to organisations and volunteers in the Nuremberg area and Hamburg. 

If you would like to use vostel.de in your city, you can contact us directly. We would like to offer our platform in your area as well and react directly to your needs. 

Since we want to make sure that there is a variety of projects for volunteers available at every location on vostel.de, we would be happy if you name other social organisations that would like to use vostel.de for their volunteer search. You are welcome to contact us at hello@vostel.de for this purpose.

Which organisations does vostel.de support in the search for volunteers?

We make new and individual decisions for each organisation. When assessing, we pay special attention to the recognisable value added for society that the work of the organisation brings. This also means that the non-profit status does not necessarily have to be anchored in the legal form, but rather is clearly reflected in ideas and actions. As this can be interpreted in different ways, we would like to present some cases of organisations that we have come to know in the last few years and that we have excluded. This list of exclusion criteria is not exhaustive, but should give an insight into the guidelines of decisions against organisations on vostel.de. These were 

  • unconstitutional organisations
  • organisations with homophobic, racist, sexist, etc., i.e. discriminatory views 
  • religious organisations with intentions of missionisation
  • pharmaceutical organisations with the intention of disseminating certain medicines, practices or active substances

Special case sports clubs and associations:

We believe that sports clubs and similar groups and organisations in the sports sector are already provided with specific opportunities to find volunteers. We do not see ourselves as a placement platform for volunteers in the sports sector, but focus on the placement of volunteers in social, cultural and ecological engagements, unless they have a clearly identifiable social focus, such as through the active involvement of marginalised groups in club activities.

Do I have to pay to use vostel.de?

The use of our website and our services are completely free of charge for organisations and initiatives as well as for private volunteers. We cover our costs (especially personnel and the development of the platform) by offering our own workshops as well as planning, organising and implementing corporate volunteering programmes. 

You can find further information under "Corporate Volunteering".

Can I also find donors via vostel.de?

With vostel.de you can find volunteers as well as donations in kind. After your registration you have the opportunity to publish the in-kind donation requests of your organisation on vostel.de. Volunteers as well as our partner companies can then donate these things to you. In your user area you will also find in-kind donation offers from our partner companies. The communication and arrangement to the transfer is simply completed over the platform.

Please note that you cannot find any money donations via vostel.de.

Finding Volunteers

How does vostel.de support me in finding volunteers?

On vostel.de you can easily registrate your organisation and create an organisation profile in a few minutes. During a short telephone call afterwards we would like to get to know you and the needs of your organisation a little better and to be able to give you the best possible support regarding your search for volunteers. You will then have access to your user area on vostel.de and can publish as many volunteering opportunities as you like. To do this, you can either set dates for the volunteers to sign up for or you can leave your contact details so that volunteers can contact you directly via our message function. This way you can arrange your first meeting, for example. We will be happy to support you in your search for volunteers with vostel.de.

How long will it take until I find volunteers via vostel.de?

We can't tell you when you can expect the first news or registrations of volunteers via vostel.de. Volunteers are as diverse as the possibilities to get involved and the popularity of individual projects depends on many factors. Whether volunteers are looking for a short-term or long-term commitment or what German language skills they have and are needed for your project is just as relevant as the actuality of the topic. And also the wording in the volunteering opportunity and the approach of the potential volunteers should be considered. A few tricks from our experience on how to make your volunteer opportunites as appealing as possible will be shown in the next section:

How can I make my volunteering opportunities more attractive to volunteers?

In our experience, particularly attractively formulated volunteering opportunities receive more attention. Always keep in mind which target group should be addressed. With the help of a friendly and attractive approach, volunteering opportunities can be made particularly appealing. What should volunteers contribute and what can you offer them? For example, is there regular supervision in which the volunteers can participate? If the work has downsides or the target group is sometimes challenging, this should also be mentioned. For further tips, please contact your vostel contact person at any time.

In order to make your work more transparent for volunteers, we recommend - as detailed as necessary and as short as possible - to fill in your organisation profile on vostel.de. You have the possibility to give information about the funding and the goals as well as the target group of your organisation. You can also create transparency in the structure of volunteers and staff, the founding year and the impact of your organisation. This gives interested volunteers a first impression of your work. 

When a volunteer contacts you, the motivation on both sides is high. In order to keep it that way, requests from volunteers should be answered reliably, friendly and promptly (preferably within the first two days). 

Who are the volunteers on vostel.de?

Via vostel.de you address a quite young and partly international target group. Most of our volunteers are between 18 and 35 years old and about 60 percent have a newcomer background. For this reason, you should specify in each volunteering opportunity which level the volunteer's knowledge of German should be. 

By the way: volunteers who speak foreign languages can be a valuable and important support for your organisation, for example as translators in working with refugees or in dealing with people without shelter from different countries! 

Are the volunteers insured during the project?

Most organisations have already taken out insurance (usually liability and accident insurance) for their volunteers. If this is not the case in your organisation, we advise you to provide written confirmation from the volunteers that they have insurance. In this way you can exclude any liability claims of the volunteers in the event of an accident or damage. You can indicate individually in each volunteer offer whether volunteers are covered by liability and/or accident insurance during their placement in your organisation.

Please note that vostel.de, as an intermediary between volunteers and organisations, is not liable for any damages incurred.

How else does vostel.de help me find volunteers?

In order to support you in your search for volunteers, we are always available to answer any questions or needs you may have, for example regarding the use of the platform or the interesting topic of recruiting young volunteers. In order to be able to share our experiences on the topic of "Volunteer Management 2.0" or the new generation of volunteers with as many organisations as possible, we have developed a series of workshops and are looking forward to meet in person. If you are interested, please contact hello@vostel.de to find out the next dates.

As soon as it becomes specific and you are looking for volunteers for a project, we will advertise your organisation and the published volunteering opportunities on social media and in our newsletters to make even more people aware.  We from vostel.de see ourselves not only as a digital platform, but also as a community and network. In our blog and our Berlin vostel community group on Facebook, our volunteers can share their experiences with each other and with organisations. Via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn as well as our newsletters, we regularly provide our network with interesting content such as events, workshops and projects.

How does vostel.de help me manage my volunteers?

vostel.de supports you beyond the search, also with the management of your volunteers. You can get in touch with interested people via message over vostel.de and manage sign ups for your projects. In order to ensure that the messages of potential volunteers reach the right person in your organisation, you can add as many members as you like to your profile on vostel.de. They will then be individually in charge of the individual projects. 

A step-by-step registration and reminder process for volunteers ensures that people who register for a project actually appear for their shift. This task is taken over by our platform. If something should go wrong and a volunteer is not present despite signing up, you have the opportunity to let us know via vostel.de. We from vostel.de will then keep an eye on the volunteers and react accordingly if necessary. After their commitment, the volunteers have the opportunity to give feedback (anonymously if wanted) about their experience in your organisation, which you can review. 

Corporate Volunteering

What is Corporate Volunteering?

In Corporate Volunteering (CV), employees of a company are released for external voluntary work in social organisations. This means that employees can work individually or as part of a team during their working hours for a fixed number of hours on charitable projects. This can be a specific day (see "Social Day") or a long-term, regular commitment. By supporting CV projects, companies demonstrate that they are aware of their social responsibility and would like to help shape their environment in a positive way. In addition, they give their employees the opportunity to develop personal skills and gain meaningful experience. 

More information about Corporate Volunteering can be found in the FAQ Companies!

How can I use corporate volunteering in my organisation and what can I expect?

Employees of a company, as well as private volunteers, can support you individually and find volunteering opportunities in your organisation through the projects you publish on vostel.de. These company volunteers can, for example, use their knowledge and skills from their working environment for you pro bono or let their time be invested in projects that are not related to their professional background. 

There is also the opportunity to bring in a whole team to your organisation. Concentrated wo*men power will be used during a Social Day for your organisation. We from vostel.de always organise these (half) days demand-oriented and in close consultation with you. During the Social Day at least one person from vostel.de is always present to relieve you as much as possible so that you and your team can follow the daily business. Since there are always costs involved in such a group assignment (e.g. for building materials or catering), we organise such days with a company budget so that there are no costs for your social organisation.

What's a Social Day?

If a whole team from a company comes together and wants to give its time and energy to a good cause, then we from vostel.de organise a so-called "Social Day". For this purpose, we place groups of 10 to 50 employees in a social organisation who help out with tasks for half a day or a whole day. Everything can be done from gardening and renovation work, clean-up and decluttering activities to projects such as games and handicrafts, the organisation of workshops or excursions and sports activities. If you have any questions or are interested, please feel free to contact us at any time.