Working for free, you say. Who would want to do that? Well, lots of people choose to donate their time for the betterment of others. When you do not have the money to give, then your time is often as valuable – if not more so.
However, imagine if you wanted to become a retail manager, but you lack experience and the relevant qualifications. Imagine then if you match home study courses with volunteering in a local charity store – and then presenting your CV to a large, retail outlet. In short, volunteering can often be a win-win – as you have the freedom to study and gain relevant experience while doing some good for other people. It is by far the easiest way to get work experience – which will be essential if you want to get started on the job ladder.
This guide to volunteering will help you to choose whether to volunteer, where you can have the best experience and what it will mean for your future, and other people.
What Is Volunteering?
Volunteering means you are willing to give your time and your skills without expectation of pay. You have chosen to volunteer because you want to benefit others and the community. However, you also recognise that this volunteering can also help you.
When you are giving your time, you will be learning new skills and receiving training and input from those with who you are working. You will also build your confidence and extend your network of friends and connections.
You can volunteer with voluntary or statutory organisations. Although some companies do offer placements where you work for free, these are usually referred to as internships.
Why Is Volunteering Important?
It is nice to be important, but it is important to be nice. No matter your position in life, it will always feel good to give back. Not only will you be helping those less fortunate, or working to improve the environment, you will at the same time improve your wellbeing too.
Human nature requires us to help. We are a social species and need to interact with others and see that our efforts boost others.
However, there is a financial price tag attached too. It is thought that the value of volunteering to the UK economy is £22.6bn. It must be important because 22% of the population of the UK volunteer each month. One hundred sixty-six thousand organisations in the UK depend on volunteers. (Volunteers Week). In short, if the size is an indicator of importance, then volunteering is an essential part of the UK way of life (and the world too).
Why Do People Volunteer?
There are lots of reasons why people choose to volunteer. For some people, it is a chance to give back. There may have been a time when they needed a lot of support and guidance and received this from others who chose to volunteer. Due to this experience, they may feel that they should offer this same time to others too. There may be an innate desire in the individual to make a difference to the people around them. To be involved in useful work is essential to some people’s sense of what is right and just in the world.
However, it is also acceptable to want to volunteer for personal reasons too. Volunteering allows people to gain skills and experience in sectors where it would be difficult to get a job without it. When you volunteer, you work alongside experts in the field and as such, learn valuable lessons that cannot be gained in the classroom. Volunteering is an important route into employment – and if you are looking for a career change – this could be the way you start that process.
When you volunteer, you will feel valued and part of a team. You will spend time doing work that is different from your daily grind, which can be so crucial to your wellbeing. If you are shy or struggle with anxiety, volunteering can help you to gain confidence and boost your self-esteem.
What Are The Benefits Of Volunteering?
The personal benefits of volunteering include:
- improved self-esteem and a sense of wellbeing
- it connects you to others
- an experience that can be used on your CV to help you enter the jobs market
- an experience that can help facilitate a change in career
- a chance to work side-by-side with experts in the field and develop skills and understanding not available in the classroom
- It can act as a direct route into employment. It may be that what starts as a voluntary position turns into a paid job when you prove to be invaluable to the work of the organisation.
- You can have a lot of fun!
Remember, it is fine to benefit from the act of volunteering. There are few selfless acts in the world. Even if we do good with no hope of benefit in return, we feel good about the action of volunteering and our sense of self-worth increases. This boost to our emotions is just as much a benefit as improving your CV and your employability. It is a win-win opportunity.
How Does Volunteering Help The Community?
With busy lives, it is hard to find time to volunteer. It is also hard to find time to connect with your local community. Therefore, you can save time by volunteering in your local community and getting to know the people with who you live. If you work within your community, you are more like to make the most of the social connections that come from volunteering. You can see the fruits of your labour and bond further with the people you are hoping to help.
Modern life can also be quite isolating. Therefore, volunteering can most help the community by giving a portal through which neighbours can meet and greet each other. The simple act of giving time can eradicate problems of loneliness.
How To Volunteer?
When getting started with volunteering, you need to start with yourself. You need to decide what you will enjoy and what will be a productive and enjoyable experience for you. You should also think about why you want to volunteer. Once you have explored all these issues – you then need to start searching for opportunities.
There are so many volunteering opportunities available that you may feel overwhelmed. Therefore, you can narrow your search by deciding if you want to work with adults, children, animals, in the local environment or other areas of the world. You may want to determine if you’re going to work alone or as a part of a broader community of volunteers. There are also other essential considerations, such as what skills you have and what causes are important to you.
You may want to start by seeking opportunities with more than one organisation. What might feel like the perfect option for you may turn out to be a poor fit?
You can begin your search by going to the site that covers volunteering for your part of the UK. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are sites expressly set up to help you find your opportunity. Alternatively, there will likely be a volunteers’ centre in your town, or there will be volunteers’ fairs run at your local library or similar.
You may be interviewed for your volunteering post. This might seem unfair, as you are trying to give your time away for free, but due diligence is vital in volunteering as it is in business. The organisation will be asking you to represent them, and their work – work alongside vulnerable people or children – and you may even need to manage money. Therefore, it is essential that they are happy with your motives and abilities.
If you are interviewed, you may be asked why you are interested in volunteering. You also may be asked about your current skills and what you would be hoping to learn. You may want to ask questions in return. You may want to know if there are opportunities to gain qualifications; what support you will receive and whether your expenses with be covered.
Where Can I Volunteer?
You can volunteer almost anywhere. There are over 160,000 organisations in the UK that need the work of volunteers. You can work in schools too, or maybe at your local hospital. Many charity shops need volunteers and groups that maintain our environment. The choice of where to volunteer is as broad as the experience you gain.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Volunteering Experience?
To get the most out of volunteering, you need to ask questions. You need to make sure the experience if right for you. Do you believe in the values of the organisation and do they make the difference you want to see? If they offer training, will this help you achieve your personal ambitions and career choices? Asking questions will also help you to know what to expect. If you are to enjoy the experience, then you are going to need to feel comfortable. If it all feels wrong – then make a change and try a different organisation.
Remember, to get the most out of volunteering; you need to enjoy it. You will be working with new people, making a social connection and moving outside your comfort zone. All these factors should enrich your life – therefore, throw yourself into it.
Tips For Getting Started When Volunteering
When you are beginning a volunteering experience, you need to treat it similar to starting a role in a new job. You need onboarding. What does this mean? Well, you need to know specific details, such as:
- where you should go
- when you should be there
- what you should wear, what equipment you will need
- what hours you will be working
- how you can be successful.
Part of knowing what is expected of you is about asking questions. Like in the workplace, you should expect support, but you should also expect to show initiative and ask questions. Remember, part of the value of this experience is to help you become employable – therefore – you need to show the necessary qualities when starting in a new position. You could always read details on the website or in leaflets before you arrive – then you have a solid base from which you can work.
Can Volunteering Lead To A Paid Job Role?
The short answer to this question is yes. Volunteering allows you to gain valuable experience in your sector. Some graduates are firmly pushed towards volunteering, to add practical experience to their academic credentials. Once your foot is in the door, you could become the natural candidate when the organisation comes to employ someone for a paid post. If you have the qualifications, you have experience in the industry – and they know you work well in the team – it would be hard for them to overlook you for a position. In competitive sectors, this is often one of the most useful ways of gaining paid employment.
What Skills Can Volunteering Give You?
One of the crucial reasons for volunteering is to gain essential skills – either for work or life or both. These skills can include:
- skills related to your industry sector
- leadership skills
- problem-solving capacity
- the ability to be adaptable
- communication skills
- planning, prioritisation and time management skills
and so many more.
There is said to be a soft skills crisis. In other words, companies are complaining that people coming into the workforce do not have the qualities needed to succeed in today’s world. There are lots of computers that can complete hard-skilled tasks now. Most of the work available to us is based on what makes us distinctly human. Therefore, we need to make sure we are good at what it takes to be human – and most of these are about working with people and for the good of other people. Volunteering is the perfect environment within which to learn these skills.
Volunteering is one of those rare opportunities for everyone involved to benefit. Not all value in life can be measured in money or other financial rewards. Sometimes, payment can come in the form of skills gained, the experience had, opportunities made available, physical and emotional illnesses avoided or eased.
Everyone in this world should have enough, be able to thrive without worry, live the life they deserve. Unfortunately, life is often unfair. Ultimately, volunteering is your way of helping to even the stakes and give everyone the chance to enjoy the life you enjoy.