Our first volunteer, and resident blogger, James Carless shares his thoughts on the benefits of volunteering and the role of volunteer sin the current economic climate
Without going into too much detail, we all know the problems with the economy at the moment – not only in this country but also internationally. We also know that unemployment is high – officially being at 2.56 million. However, without going into too much detail, the ‘economically inactive’ figure (which includes everyone of working age not working) stands at 9.1 million. As for part-time workers, the figure stands at just over 8 million, while youth unemployment is still stubbornly high at over 1 million.
However these figures are interpreted and whoever is included or excluded from them does not alter the fact that there are deep problems with the economy at present, which will sadly not be going away anytime soon.
While any of us can fall into troubled situations in our lives –as we could be the next in the unemployment line- being in this position does not have to be the end of the world. There are ways to ‘keep your head above the water’, one of which is volunteering. While it is not acceptable that a volunteer should take the place of a paid worker (as after all, this is just making the current economic situation worse), volunteering for a charity or any other organisation –where the work is not taking the place of a paid employee- can greatly help that organisation but also the volunteer.
BENEFITS FOR THE ORGANISATION
Especially for charities and other ‘not for profit’ or ‘more than profit’ organisations (the latter acting like charities), a volunteer can be invaluable. Everyone has different skills and experience which can be vital when brought to an organisation. It could be that you have excellent book-keeping skills or are very good with people, or even have a great knowledge of the retail sector. Whatever this may be, it could be of great advantage to the organisation you volunteer with.
Added to this is the fact that by volunteering, you will providing an extra pair of hands that the organisation may not have otherwise had. If you are a fast or very good worker, the extra help will probably be even more appreciated.
Then of course, by being this ‘extra pair of hands’ –maybe even be one of a group of extra volunteers- this may be the means for the business to expand. It could be that the charity now has enough volunteers to open a new shop or your website editing skills enable the organisation to set up another website.
FOR THE VOLUNTEER
Of course volunteering is a ‘two way street’ and while you may not expect anything in return, appreciation for your efforts is always good – plus any other benefits are an advantage.
By volunteering, a great benefit can actually be simply getting out of the house. This may be especially valuable for people who live on their own –it could be somebody who has lost a husband/wife- and at the present time for people who have become unemployed and/or are looking for work.
Volunteering, unless you are volunteering in a remote lighthouse in the Western Isles that is, will probably bring you into contact with a wide range of people, from business colleagues and customers to suppliers and local officials. Not only can this be interesting –certainly more so than being stuck in the house all day- it can also help develop interpersonal skills – with increased confidence of meeting and speaking to people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
This alongside the other skills gained during voluntary work can make a tremendous difference if looking for paid work – whether full or part time. Volunteering shows that you as a person have a ‘get up and go attitude’ while the various skills gained such as interpersonal skills, maybe financial awareness, research, diffusing angry situations and so-on are the types of skills that many employers are looking for. For people who have never had a job before, voluntary work also provides a great entry route into paid employment.
In many instances doing voluntary work for an organisation and settling-in well can actually lead to a paid role within that organisation. Even if this is not the case though, by being out there and speaking to people you will build up your networking skills and networks of people, which in turn may lead to a job – maybe with a friend of the manager, customer or somebody who knows somebody else (this is how many jobs are gained).
Though not paid, many organisations will pay your expenses. This could be transport costs, paying for stationary used and even for lunch. Though voluntary work by definition is unpaid, paying for these expenses may help make volunteering easier (as you are not paying to volunteer out of your own pocket) but also could lead to being invited to interesting events such as networking events, conferences and other social occasions with the organisation.
Even for people who have a part-time or even a full-time job, a little extra voluntary work can provide those extra skills or added enjoyment that can help out socially and economically. It may be the case that somebody works full time in a profit-making business and just wishes to spend a few hours a week to help out in the community, or a part-time worker wishing to increase their hours by volunteering.
Whatever your reason for volunteering, the whole experience should be positive; positive for the organisation you volunteer with and more importantly for yourself. One word of warning though – and that is voluntary work as the name suggests should be voluntary. It should therefore be extra work that helps that organisation whilst not taking the place of a paid employee.
If you have the time and have not considered volunteering, why not give it a go. You have not got anything to loose and much to gain!