Over the past few years, at Link UP London, we’ve witnessed how skilled volunteering projects can serve as a great way for women who have taken a career break to remember the value of the skills they have to offer.
What is Skilled Volunteering?
Skilled Volunteering is different than traditional front-line volunteering. Instead of being part of service provision, skilled volunteering supports the back end of organisations to help them overcome a specific challenge. These needs can be wide-ranging and can include support with policy review and revision, digital marketing, developing web content, creating brochures, graphic design, financial support, strategy development, data analysis, programme development, and more. This type of volunteering is particularly important for community level Social Good Organisations (SGOs – community groups, registered charities and social enterprises) as they tend to have small teams and run on minimal overhead costs and do not usually have the resources to pay for all the professional expertise needed to help them make the difference they desire. Now more than ever, these organisations need access to professional skills, so that they can continue supporting the communities they serve that have been adversely affected by the pandemic.
What can you offer?
Professional women on a career break have so much to offer SGOs from legal expertise, to financial knowledge, to communications and marketing skills along with writing, strategy and much, much more. When designed well, these skilled volunteering projects can offer a true win-win scenario for both the women and the organisation.
“This project gave me a challenge when I really needed one and showed me I can do so much more than I thought. I absolutely loved volunteering on this – it was rewarding, stretching and gave me so much more confidence.”
Link UP volunteer
“I enjoyed using my skills to help a local charity and it gave me more confidence to look for a paid job.”
Link UP volunteer
Why confidence matters
A 2016 report by PWC, called Women Returners Research report, found that there are 550,000 professional women in the UK on extended career breaks for caring reasons with an estimated 427,000 of these women wanting to return to the workforce in the future. However, a return to the workplace can feel daunting, with a decrease in confidence in abilities and skills regularly acknowledged anecdotally. Many women we speak with tell us they are no longer sure they even have skills that are relevant!
Research on this issue is beginning to emerge with a 2019 study by TechPixies on the Confidence Gap finding that 24% of the 1000 women surveyed felt a lack of confidence was their biggest stumbling block for returning to work and 45% of women saying they would feel less anxious if they could lose self-doubt about their abilities. Along similar lines, a study by the Return Hub in 2018 surveyed 254 women who had taken a career break and 7 out of 10 felt their time out of the workforce dented their confidence and over a quarter believed that this was the key barrier to their return to the workplace.
Having the opportunity to deliver on a short-term, clearly defined project for a Social Good Organisation can be just the thing needed to dust off skills and remember what you can do if you’ve been on a break from paid employment anywhere from 1 month to 10 plus years. Many of the women who have participated in our skilled volunteering projects have clearly felt the impact.
“It gave me more confidence in my skills (I didn’t know I had any but apparently I do!) and made me step outside my comfort zone, learning new skills such as public speaking in front of a whole school assembly, not something I had done before! Scary but fun at the same time.”
Link UP volunteer who had been out of the workforce for over 15 years
“I really enjoyed working on the project. Having recently been made redundant on maternity leave it was great to use my skills again and I found it helped develop my self belief after being out of the workplace for a year. It gave me a sense of purpose and it was great to support a charity in the valuable work that they do.”
Link UP volunteer
“Having been out of the workforce for about a year, the project reminded me of how much I enjoyed using my skills to problem solve and to collaborate with others. Looking forward to similar opportunities in the future!”
Link UP volunteer
Skilled volunteering projects also help to address another issue faced by women who have taken a career break – the CV Gap. Sixty-eight percent of the women who took part in the Return Hub study cited reluctance from employers to hire someone with a CV gap as the main barrier preventing women returning to work. Participating in a skilled volunteer project that utilises relevant skills begins to fill this gap and show that skills are still there while also providing a recent experience to add to your CV and talk about at an interview!
“I found the volunteering experience invaluable as not only was I able to provide my marketing and sponsorship skills to a worthwhile charity focusing on helping provide educational funding for young women and children, it also helped me find a new and exciting marketing manager position working within education.”
Link UP volunteer
“Volunteering has helped balance my life whilst still allowing me to do meaningful work.”
Link UP volunteer
I recently spoke with Tracey who volunteered on a Link UP project with the incredible organisation Clowns without Borders that supports children through disasters. She helped them with their social media strategy and I asked if I could share her story as I thought it might resonate with others.
Tracey worked for 18 years in creative agencies and advertising. She was in a senior role working with many well-known brands when she re-evaluated her life and decided she wanted to move away from a traditional 9 to 5 job. Instead, she wanted to use the extensive experience she had gained over the years to work freelance to give her more flexibility and control over her life, which she was looking for after recently becoming a mother.
Unfortunately, she had decided to step away from work just as the coronavirus pandemic hit and many freelance opportunities went on hold. In spring 2020 she signed up for 2to3 Days as she knew they advocated flexible work and she wondered if they might have something that suited her. Through their newsletter she learned about Link UP London’s Skilled Volunteering opportunities. This appealed to her, as it gave her a way to use her skills for the benefit of a small organisation and to gain some freelance experience. Tracey had worked extensively on social and digital platforms in her most recent role and was drawn to Link UP’s project with Clowns Without Borders as they were in need of support in using social media more effectively to raise their voice and profile.
A few months at home without structured work had affected Tracey’s confidence, as not being in an office and working with a team had made her begin to question her skills. But once she began volunteering with Sam at Clowns Without Borders, what she knew and had to offer became apparent.
“Working with Clowns Without Borders on their social media strategy made great use of my skills and showed me how I can help smaller charities and businesses. It gave me a sense of purpose and helped me learn new skills along the way – it’s something I’d definitely do again.”
She was delighted to be working with a new sector, on a project with a small organisation which really put her skills to the test. And, she learned a lot too, which will help her with her freelance work moving forward.
“It’s made me understand that there are organisations who need help with understanding social media, breaking it down so it doesn’t seem so daunting. Offering a few tools and tips can really have a positive effect and help an organisation move forwards on their own. I’ve learnt that I enjoy sharing my knowledge, feeling like it is being put to good use. I’ve also learnt about how to share information so it’s accessible and will be putting that to use in the future.”
Sam, from Clowns without Borders, was equally excited about the support Tracey’s provided,
“Tracey’s insight and expertise has already increased our engagement on social media. We’re also confident we’ll go beyond the fundraising targets we’ve set for social this year. Tracey’s expertise and enthusiasm has given us a much-needed boost!”
This is just one of many examples that demonstrates the real value professional skills can provide to Social Good Organisations on the front lines of supporting the vulnerable and marginalised in our communities and wider society. It has definitely been a win-win for Tracey and Clowns without Borders as it has been for many other women who have volunteered their skills and SGOs we have worked with over the past few years.
If you’re not sure about your skills, or what you have to offer, why not look into skilled volunteering opportunities that are available (there are many virtual options out there!) and test your skills out again? Make sure the project is clearly defined before you engage and if it is, I’d be surprised if you didn’t come away feeling stronger and more confident to take your next steps, while also feeling a sense of purpose providing support to an organisation working to improve the lives of those who need it most.