Volunteering has been part of my professional and personal life for the last 20 years and, thanks to Link UP, I thought I would share some of my experiences. I am a Consumer Insights Specialist by trade who also dabbles in tutoring and coaching. I dedicate about half a day a week, on average, to volunteering. In this blog, I would like to focus on three elements:
- How did I get into volunteering?
- Why and what to consider when volunteering
- A couple of watch outs
How did I get into volunteering?
I was inspired to look into volunteering by people who, themselves, selflessly gave up their free time to help me develop as a young person (which I was once upon a time!). From one-off few hours all the way to a multi-year commitment, all my experiences have been rewarding and challenging in their own way. Most of my volunteering experience is in the sports coaching sector, especially with Ful-On Tri but I have volunteered in a host of different roles, from charity fundraiser at Glastonbury to an Insights Analyst for Neighbourhood Watch.
Volunteering has allowed me to explore my own inner motivations and see what really makes me tick. It has given me a real feel for who and how I want to help and what I like to do in life. In addition to helping out locally, one of the reasons volunteering is appealing to me is flexibility. I have chosen opportunities where I can work when, where and however much I want, obviously within the constraint of the organisation.
Why and what to consider when volunteering
The rewards for Volunteers can be very diverse and one of my key tips would be to really understand why you are volunteering. This will really help keep the motivation going. The answer might not be straightforward or immediately available and could be different for each volunteering opportunity
From my own experience the key benefits of volunteering fall into three broad buckets:
- Giving back: Give something back to an organisation or community that has impacted on your own life
- Development: gaining new skills, knowledge and experience
- Sociable: meeting new people and making new friends
For some it offers the chance to give something back to the community or make a difference to the people around them. For others it provides an opportunity to develop new skills or build on existing experience and knowledge. Regardless of the motivation, what unites them all is that they find it both challenging and rewarding.
A couple of watch outs
It is super important for people to understand the difference between volunteering and working for free. Volunteers feel that their contribution is a choice and feel a sense of achievement. Free workers are not compensated at all and therefore personal costs are bigger than gains for free workers … essentially, they are the ones paying to work!
In the age of “exposure as payment”, it is important to make the difference, and to call out when a request is about working for free (which might occasionally have its own merits) rather than volunteering.
Also, it’s not because you are a volunteer that people should consider you as a disposable resource or give you less respect. I give up time with my wife and two young daughters to help people develop their own skills or have an enjoyable event – and I don’t hesitate to remind people of that!
This is the beauty of using a service like Link UP London’s. They create projects with a clear structure and specific goals which are agreed in advance with the volunteer and charitable organisation, taking into consideration the needs of both sides to ensure an enjoyable and fruitful experience.
This blog would not be complete without thanking my wife, Ursula Hankinson, and our two daughters from the bottom of my heart for their love and support when I decide to embark on another goofy adventure.