Volunteers are The Donkey Sanctuary's true champions. Join this incredible team of people devoted to improving the lives of donkeys and mules worldwide.

Volunteer Opportunities
  • Stories
  • Why I volunteer
  • FAQs
  • Induction
  • Stories

    Jane Parr

    Jane Parr is our very first front of house volunteer in The Kitchen and here’s what she had to say about her first four-hour shift. “My first day as a volunteer was filled with a little apprehension and excitement. I was met by front of house manager Lisa Keech, who made me feel very welcome and at ease. Lisa introduced me to the supervisor, who kindly showed me where everything was and introduced me to some of the team. My task was to clear tables and ensure that they were clean, as it was going to be busy due to it being half term! And it was busy, but fun. It wasn’t just about clearing tables, it was about talking to visitors and asking if they were having a nice time. It was lovely seeing the children and adults excited about meeting the donkeys. The hours flew by, and before I knew it, my table clearing duties were over. Although a little weary, I really enjoyed the experience. The thing that really struck me is that everyone who works here, whether in The Kitchen, the offices or the farm, comes together as one big team to support and help each other. I felt very honoured to be a part of that and to be able to give a bit of my time to a very worthy charity.” Volunteer development manager Emma Wakeham said: ‘We knew it would be a bit of a baptism of fire for Jane to start in half term, but she was excited to give it a go and was absolutely fantastic! Not only was she brilliant with our visitors, she was efficient and hardworking which was appreciated by everyone in the team. We look forward to welcoming more volunteers in this role, especially during our busier times, so that we can continue to make sure we are offering a great service and welcoming environment to our visitors.”

    Gill Smith

    A family who travelled from Bristol to Sidmouth were hoping for a tour despite it being a dull and foggy day, and volunteer Gill, who was doing extra hours, kindly took them on an hour and a half tour. The family of four, including a boy of 13 and his younger sister were devoted animal lovers and had adopted Harbin with the boy declaring it was the best present he had ever had. The family were keen to hear about our work and to learn about the individual donkeys they met. Only empty tummies and the thought of lunch in The Kitchen brought the tour to an end. Volunteer development manager Emma Wakeham said: “Gill is always a privilege and a joy to watch engaging with our visitors - nothing is too much trouble and we are lucky to have her on our team. Thanks Gill for stepping in.”

    Sam Dabner

    When speaking to Volunteer manager Emma Wakeham recently, farms maintenance manager Nigel Blackmore, mentioned that a former volunteer was now working for us, so Emma asked him to find out more. Sam told Nigel: “When I was younger my mum had an allotment which started my interest. I remember digging the garden, growing lettuces and tomatoes. Growing cucumbers was my favourite though – mum’s cucumbers were always massive! I heard there were volunteering opportunities here and once I knew there was a gardening team, I made enquiries through HR. A couple of weeks later, mum and I met Nigel and one of the Volunteer team and I happily volunteered for about seven months.” Nigel said: “Sam’s apprenticeship came about in September 2018. Our head gardener Morley was impressed with how well he was working and his enthusiasm for all things gardening. Last summer we were at the beginning of some exciting times, with new raised beds in front of The Kitchen to plant out with nectar-rich flowers and fantastic gardening opportunities were being discussed as part of the Beacon project. It therefore made sense to have an apprentice to help us while teaching and developing them and helping a young person get on the job ladder.” Sam continued: “I had a chat with the head chef and he said he wanted unusual vegetables such as heritage tomatoes and green beans as well as multi-coloured carrots which could be a talking point on some dishes. It will be great to be able to tell customers that the vegetables are grown on-site. I’ll also be growing herbs which can be picked and used by The Kitchen team and were planning to grow sweet peas which can go on the tables.”

    Carol Haigh

    “My name is Carol and I have been a volunteer at Leeds since July 2015. For over 30 years I worked as a speech and language therapist helping children with communication difficulties. When I retired in March 2015, I knew I wanted to do something on a voluntary basis that enabled me to continue working with children with additional needs but in a totally different environment to my paid job. I have adopted a donkey at the Leeds centre for many years due to a lifelong passion for these beautiful animals so when I was given the opportunity to become a volunteer here it was a match made in heaven! Volunteering was initially my way of giving something back, but what I hadn’t expected was that I would gain so much more from the experience. I love going to the sanctuary and take great pleasure in seeing the children’s interaction with the donkeys. I have learnt so much about donkeys and what amazing creatures they are. I am constantly amazed by their individual personalities, their intelligence and the way they make close friendships with each other and with people. The calm, peaceful and welcoming environment is like therapy for me too. When I’m there I forget about the stresses of life and always come home feeling so much better. I’ve made good friends and learnt so much, not just about donkeys and children but also myself! In recent months there have been changes in the way that we work with vulnerable children and adults, particularly in the donkey-facilitated learning programme. This approach has inspired me even more as it mirrors the approach I used in my career. This approach provides a calm, peaceful and safe environment that places no demands on the child and sees the adult as a support rather than teacher., allowing the child to explore and test out experiences in their own time. I have been amazed at how children have developed their confidence and self-esteem as well as becoming much calmer generally. Children who were initially wary and often frightened by the donkeys can now confidently approach them, stroke them, brush them and just be happy around them. Their faces beam when they see the donkeys, they know the names of their favourite donkey and can identify them within the herd (they’re better than me!). It is very emotional but it is a privilege to be a part of this. I am sure these new-found skills will carry over into other areas of the child’s life and will help them to develop the life skills they will need in the future.”

    Corinne McCafferty

    Behaviour assistant Corinne McCafferty tells us her story. “When I first joined as a volunteer, I viewed it merely as an opportunity to gain some work experience before graduating from University. I was studying a MSc in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter with the full intent of moving back home to Scotland to be with friends and family afterwards. However as soon as I met my first donkey, I was hooked! “After a failed job application to be a groom, I applied to be a volunteer instead alongside the write-up of my MSc thesis. I worked in the volunteer office and at Town Barton, where I helped the grooms work with their resident donkeys and mules. It was a fantastic experience as, despite extensive experience with horses, I had never worked with donkeys or mules before. The team made me feel extremely welcome and were very appreciative of the help. “I knew that I wanted to work for the sanctuary officially so applied for the role of New Arrivals late shift groom and was delighted to be offered the job starting just as I was submitting my MSc thesis. I loved the job, despite the unusual hours, and the rotating cast of donkeys with a whole host of issues put my skills to the test. The work was very rewarding as I got to see the terrible state in which some of the donkeys arrived and how we made their lives better. “After a year or so I got this opportunity to progress to the role of behaviour assistant, working with Ben Hart and the rest of the Research and Operational Support team on various projects. Here I finally got to combine my love of donkeys with my research skills and I couldn’t think of a more perfect position for me to be in at this stage of my career” “I’m so grateful to The Donkey Sanctuary for all the doors it’s opened for me. I don’t know where I’d be if I’d not started volunteering, but can guarantee that I wouldn’t have the same level of job satisfaction as I do now. Times are hard for graduates out there and it’s rare that young people find jobs they enjoy and which are related to their studies. My message to them is ‘be kind and generous with your time and someone will take notice. It gives you a chance to know that you’re in the right line of work to ensure a happy life, and when a paid opportunity comes along you’ll be able grab it’”

    Clairedy Gardiner-Hyne

    “For me to be given the honour to be a quality time volunteer (QTV) for the Donkey Sanctuary is like therapy for the soul. From the moment I wake up on the morning I'm volunteering I feel the weight of life's stress dissolve away because I get to spend time with my fellow volunteer Joyce, who is a lot of fun to be with, our lovely Donkey Guardians, the wonderful grooms, but ultimately I get to spend time with my furry four legged best friends. And the best part is, they all really do have their own individual personalities. Some will come up to you as soon as you enter the barn demanding a hug and kiss, others, know you'll seek them out so hold back, but when you do approach them, you can almost sense they want to say 'what kept you'? And others need time to gain your trust, but when you do and they greet you with no hesitation, the beam on your face lasts for hours and the joy in your heart lasts forever. At the end of my volunteering day I generally feel exhausted but I also feel completely content, the world can be a glorious place. When I first thought about applying for the QTV role I remember I hesitated, the largest animal I'd ever had experience with was golden retrievers so what did I know about donkeys? But the training given helps you overcome any anxieties or fears you may have, it builds your confidence and in no time you're doing the role with the best of them. As volunteers we're told how important our role is to the donkey’s well being however, even today, I still can't believe we're allowed to spend time with these wonderful animals and for that I will be forever grateful. I'm so proud to be part of the Donkey Sanctuary family, I wear my uniform with great pride, and filling in the QTV form really was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My one regret, I didn't do it sooner”.

  • Why I volunteer

    Alan Shuttleworth, Eddie Harford and Trevor Icke - Conservation

    "I like the management of the farms at The Donkey Sanctuary, not just for the donkeys but also for the local ecology. I got involved by hedge laying for the Greater Horseshoe Bat Project." "I get to develop my skills in the conservation work we do. I am not an expert but we do hedge laying, willow building projects, coppicing, fences and leaky dam building." "The satisfaction of seeing things recover, keeping it in shape. Volunteering is something we can all do and you learn new skills."

    Nicky Langley - HR / Volunteers Administration

    "I finished full-time work and retired to Branscombe with an intention to volunteer at The Donkey Sanctuary. It was one of the draws to retire here."

    Phil Dawson - Visitor Engagement

    "The Donkey Sanctuary is an amazingly peaceful place that allows you to completely de-stress and it's a genuine happy place."

  • FAQs

    How much time would I ideally need to give?

    We ask that you ideally give a morning or an afternoon each week but this does vary depending on the role you are volunteering in. Please check the details for the role you are interested in.

    I am receiving benefits - am I allowed to volunteer?

    Volunteering shouldn’t affect your benefits providing you follow the appropriate guidelines, but we would suggest that you tell your Job Centre about your volunteering. You can find out further details about this by visiting the DirectGov website.

    Who can volunteer?

    As long as you are aged over 16 (in some roles this may be 18 years), you can apply for our available roles, if you are enthusiastic and have regular free time to offer us, we would love to hear from you.

    Unfortunately, we cannot accept volunteers who are under 16 years of age but if you are unable to volunteer for us, you could consider helping us to raise vital funds instead. 


    How do I apply to volunteer?

    Volunteer positions are advertised on our current opportunities page


    To apply for a role please click on the role and follow the instructions. Please note we do not operate a waiting list so if you don’t see a suitable opportunity please do check back on the website at regular intervals. You will be able to sign up to receive volunteer opportunity alerts.


    Do you have short-term volunteering opportunities?

    Due to the time, training and costs involved to volunteer hands-on with the donkeys, we are unable to support short-term volunteering. Our volunteer scheme is designed for long term, regular volunteers as we give all our volunteers thorough training to ensure that the safety of the donkey and that of the volunteers is the uppermost priority. The scheme is set up to compliment the work of our dedicated team of staff and we need all our volunteers to be fully trained before joining us.

    However, we do offer seasonal roles helping in our Visitor Centre and we occasionally have short-term projects in our offices.

    Do you offer any training?

    Yes, absolutely! It’s important that all of our volunteers are comfortable and confident in the volunteering roles we offer. For this reason, we offer a comprehensive induction to our volunteers across all areas of the organisation. Where additional role specific training is required this will be provided and suitable to the role being undertaken.

    Do you have volunteer opportunities at weekends?

    When available, we only have weekend opportunities in the roles at our shop, in The Kitchen, and in our visitor engagement roles which are all based at our main site in Sidmouth.

    Do you provide accommodation?

    We are unable to provide any accommodation.

    Do I need specific skills to volunteer?

    We are always pleased to welcome volunteers with experience as it is always useful, along with a friendly attitude and a willingness to get involved fully with the role you are applying for. Please have a look at the individual role descriptions/advert for desirable skills and experience required.

    What's in it for me?

    • Learn new, transferable skills
    • Chance to develop existing skills
    • Make a difference
    • Gives you a chance to try something new
    • Meet new and like-minded people
    • Be part of a team
    • Receive full training relevant to your role
    • Volunteer polo shirt

    Do you offer Work Experience and Duke of Edinburgh placements?

    Currently, our work experience and Duke of Edinburgh programmes are under review and therefore we are not able to accept any further applications. The website will be updated once this review is completed.

    Do I need to provide proof of right to volunteer in the UK?

    Yes, we are required by law to check all our volunteers’ eligibility to volunteer in the UK. This means that before you can start volunteering with us you will need to produce documentation to prove you have the right to volunteer in the UK such as a passport or the combination of a birth certificate and your National Insurance Number.

    What do you do with my personal information?

    If you apply to volunteer with us, we’ll need to collect the personal information you provide to process your application. We may undertake monitoring of recruitment statistics, but we won’t disclose information to a third party without your consent, unless the disclosure is required by law, such as obtaining ‘disclosure’ from the Disclosure & Barring Service.

    Our Centres may also share volunteer information with us, for the purposes of keeping a register of current volunteers. Further, your personal information will be held and processed so that we can contact you about future volunteering opportunities. We’ll only hold information relating to the nature of your voluntary work and we’ll delete it in accordance with our retention policies.

    How do I contact the Volunteer Team?

    If you have any further questions about volunteering, please email
  • Induction

    Thank you for your interest in joining The Donkey Sanctuary as a volunteer!

    Both employees and volunteers are required to complete a full induction. For volunteers, the process and length of induction varies, depending upon the specific duties/department involved.

    Volunteers are required to complete a minimum 2-day induction process, which includes an introduction to the sanctuary, safeguarding best practice, completion of personal paperwork and a guided tour of the site. Those volunteers undertaking donkey-facing duties will complete a 4-day induction process, which will include practical donkey care training.

    Prospective volunteers will be provided with further information, advice and guidance when invited to induction. However, should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact our volunteer team on 01395 573034.

    Thank you.

Any questions about becoming a Volunteer? Ask the Volunteer Team.

Email us at

Office hours: Monday - Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm.

Emma Wakeham

Volunteer Development Lead






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