Volunteering - Dispelling the Myths
The content in this article may now be out of date. Please try searching for a more recent version.
Sharon Whitchurch talks about how volunteering can help you with your aspirations while allowing you to give something back. Sharon is a skills coach at Bromford and also volunteers for Teenage Cancer Trust.
Having spent the last eight years volunteering I have heard many people ask questions such as: 'what is in it for you? Why do you work for nothing? Isn’t that just an employer/organisation being cheapskates? Why do you spend your free time volunteering?' There are most definitely myths surrounding the whole area of volunteering, including the difference between volunteering and work experience. I suppose if you don’t volunteer, you don’t understand the buzz and satisfaction that you get from giving a little of your time in a voluntary capacity. There are many reasons that people choose to volunteer but generally speaking it falls into one of three categories - to gain experience in a particular area, to make a difference or for health reasons. Hopefully this blog will answer some questions and may even dispel some myths.
First of all the difference between volunteering and work experience. Google states: Volunteering is any activity or service that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that benefits someone else, the local community or the environment. A work placement is a period of relevant, supervised work experience, assessed as part of a programme of study. In some courses placements are compulsory, in others they are optional. The length of a placement varies between courses, anything from a year to a few days undertaken alongside the programme. Hope that helps!
Right, back to reasons why you might want to volunteer. Say you have the aspiration to become a support worker, but you lack experience. Don’t rule out the value of volunteering -it can be invaluable. While working in Birmingham as a support worker I was part of a team that delivered a volunteers programme to enable people to volunteer with us. It was a very successful and two of the participants who took part went on to become support workers. It’s not a given that if you volunteer in the area you’re interested in you will get a job in it, but it shows employers that you are interested and willing to gain unpaid experience to gain those skills.
Your health may be impacting on your capability to work, whether it is physical or mental. It has been proven that volunteering is good for you. Taking those steps to get back to work can be scary and volunteering is a great way back in. When I was suffering from depression I found volunteering gave me a purpose. It made me feel useful. The best of it was, I didn’t feel that I was under any obligation. If I was having a bad day, it was OK, it wasn’t the end of the world if I couldn’t make it. If it was a physical illness that meant you couldn’t work for a prolonged period of time, returning to work is a very scary prospect! Volunteering allows you to get back in the mind-set of work - and it shows you whether you're ready to take the next step towards returning to paid work.
Health isn’t a barrier, you have the acquired the skills and experience needed and are in a job that you love. Time to give up volunteering, yes? No - now is the time more than ever to continue. Volunteering to make a difference without a doubt is so rewarding. Whether you volunteer at a local food bank, or at an IT workshop, one hour per week or an hour a day, it doesn’t matter. There is nothing like the feeling of doing something someone else just because you can. For me, I volunteer because it is my way of paying it forward. It feels good to make a difference. I love the feeling that I get by doing something for those less fortunate than me. The majority of my volunteering is with the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT). I do it because I know that it makes a difference and it means that I continue to spread the positivity, determination and story of a friend who fund-raised tirelessly for TCT while suffering from cancer himself.
Volunteering Works - Here’s Why
You can gain new skills, knowledge and experience - especially relevant if you are looking at moving to an area that you don’t have a lot of experience in.
Your CV gets a boost - Volunteering always stands out on your CV. It is a great way to give you that little extra that a fellow applicant may not have.
It’s a way of saying thank you - Give something back to an organisation that has impacted on a person's life, either directly or indirectly
Improve your confidence - never underestimate how a little volunteering can boost your confidence. Generally speaking because you are volunteering, there is less pressure on you to ‘achieve’ in relation to targets etc. A great way to aid in your recovery especially if you’ve been ill.
Meeting new people and making new friends - Volunteering gets you out and about. Getting you outside of the home is a great benefit and not one to be underestimated. If you are recovering from an illness, such as depression, meeting new people, although possibly causing initial anxiety can really aid in your recovery.