The gift of giving – why volunteer?

When it comes to charity, I’ll be completely honest and say that I would much rather give my time than my money. Don’t get me wrong, I do give money to charity, and I’m so glad that others do too. We can help so much. But for me, personally, I like to get involved. To get stuck in and give time is more rewarding to me than giving money. For one thing, you always know where your time has gone.

For as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed organising charity events or volunteering. One of my earliest memories of doing something for a charity was a 1.5 mile stilt walk at the age of 9 years old. I was (and kind of still am) very proud of that achievement! But all through my education I have taken opportunities to volunteer. Sometimes these are one off occasions, other times they are more formal and regular. Some examples include volunteering for a telephone listening service for students, organising a kids Christmas party, being chair of the Bath Association of Psychology Students and currently, volunteering at the Carers’ Centre in Bath and Radstock.

Being at university is a fantastic time to volunteer and I know that my volunteering track record has lengthened significantly since first coming away to uni. Most universities have staff in their Student Union who are employed especially to arrange opportunities.

I couldn’t really tell you what it was that made me volunteer in the first place or what inspired me to do it, but I can certainly tell you why I love it and all the ways in which I have benefitted from giving some of my time. Today I’d like to share some of the things I have gained from giving…

Skills

An obvious one perhaps, but the skills I have developed as a result of various volunteering roles are incredibly broad. I’ve learnt to keep myself organised in terms of time, money and documents/paperwork. I’ve had ample opportunities to improve my written and verbal communication – the need to ask (beg) for money or funding will do that to you. Working with vulnerable individuals means I have learnt to empathise, problem solve and learn how to deal with at risk individuals without panicking. I’ve been able to lead a team of committee members to deliver events, talks and represent fellow students and I’ve learnt how to physically train for an event, and how to blog and fundraise effectively alongside it. Working in a voluntary research assistant position I was able to improve my qualitative analysis skills and gain really useful knowledge on the process of writing an academic paper.

Many people view volunteering as ‘giving up’ your time, and not getting ‘paid’ for it. But if we take money out of the equation and think about the acquisition of skills and knowledge as payment – it’s a pretty good deal!

What I also love about volunteering, is that most often those who you are helping out are aware that you are a volunteer and therefore are flexible in their requirements. Most positions I have signed up for or taken a lead on have been flexible, or I’ve been sure to make it clear from the outset what my limits or expectations are. This means that communication is key (another skill to practice and learn about!) with whoever you are working with.

Insight

It’s all too easy to get caught up in our own little worlds and forget about who else is out there, or what else is going on. The volunteering I have done over the years has given me an incredible opportunity to gain an insight into such a wide range of individuals’ lives.

My work at the Carers’ Centre, predominantly with young carers, but with other groups too has definitely shown me this. Young carers are the key focus of my PhD research, but there is something about meeting with these amazing young people that has completely changed my perspective and opened me up to the world in which they live. It has helped me enormously in terms of my research and I’m so grateful to work with them.

Without a doubt one of the most insightful volunteering experiences I had was when I visited Calais earlier this year to help at the refugee camp. The things I learnt there were beyond words and will always be memorable. I would never have been able to expand my views and discover what it was really like there if I hadn’t volunteered.

Through volunteering I have listened to students with a number of issues, I have worked with elderly people and learnt what life is like for them, I’ve organised psychology based talks and met members of the public and other academics with the most interesting stories to tell.

Volunteering is a fantastic way to broaden your mind set and learn about different people, in a really hands on way. A way that you can’t really learn from books, websites or articles.

CV content

This is often the main reason why people volunteer, and I think it’s always very easy to tell those who are volunteering to further their career or tick a box, and those whose hearts are really in it. But, there is no denying that volunteering looks fantastic on a CV or job application.

Volunteering shows you are willing to do something for someone else, without expecting anything in return. It shows potential employers that you are thinking about others, not just yourself and that you have an interest in things beyond your own life.

Equally, I think there is something very special about giving your time to something you are passionate about without being paid (by way of money, remember!). To ‘sacrifice’ your time in order to gain skills or learn more about something, really shows that you are interested and curious. Rather than not get any experience because there isn’t anything paid, it demonstrates that whatever you are involved in is really important to you.

Giving back

Chances are, somewhere along the line without even realising it, you will have been given something or received some service from a volunteer. What about that sports event you did – the marshals? Volunteers. Or that time you visited a relative in hospital and when you arrived they were talking to a lovely lady from the hospital? Volunteer. When you went to that yoga session arranged to raise money for refugees, who was it organised by? Volunteers.

They are everywhere. And they are giving back, just as we all do when we volunteer. We add to the endless cycle of giving, for the reason that it simply feels good to give. All volunteering is important, no matter how big or small. You never know whose life you could touch by volunteering, without even realising you have done so.

If you aren’t currently a volunteer, is there any of your time you could give? It feels good to donate money to charity, but it feels absolutely great to donate your time. I’ll leave some links at the bottom of this post for you to have a little look at some opportunities.

If you haven’t got any time to spare for volunteering at the moment, don’t be hard on yourself or feel bad. Maybe set the intention to give time, if and when you feel you are able. But in the meantime, maybe you could be on the lookout for volunteers when you go about your daily lives and perhaps give them a little nudge of encouragement and some thanks for what they do. I’m sure they will be so grateful.

Have any volunteers touched your lives? Do you have any memorable volunteering events? Or are you a service crying out for volunteers? Please do let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

Til next time 🙂

 

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Links:

Volunteering matters: https://volunteeringmatters.org.uk/

Do-it: https://do-it.org/

Bath and North East Somerset Volunteer Centre: http://www.vol-centre.org.uk/

Bath Student (University of Bath) Volunteering: https://www.bathstudent.com/volunteer/

Volunteers Week Blog: http://volunteersweek.org/

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