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Volunteering - a general introduction

“It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do”                                         

Jerome K Jerome

 

What could be more satisfying or rewarding than using your experience, expertise and enthusiasm to make a real difference to your community! But volunteering is a big subject and to make it more digestible we’ve split it into 4 sections:
 
  • A general introduction to whet your appetite. See below, or if you don't like   introductions go direct to:--           
  • See Jobs on offer for specific voluntary and charity jobs currently on offer, including trusteeships.
 

Volunteering – A General Introduction

  

 
A recent television programme focused on making people in Slough learn how to become happier. One of the key messages from this exercise was that doing a good turn really increased your happiness quota. If you would like to get happier, why not think about doing your good turn through some volunteering and you could start by finding out what is on offer for volunteers wherever you live. It’s very easy, just log on to this website: www.do-it.org.uk/ and tick the boxes to see what you could do.
Alternatively, and if you’d like to talk to a human being about volunteering, ring Volunteering England on 0845 305 6979 and they can give you telephone contact details of your nearest Volunteer Centre. Or find this out on line: www.volunteering.org.uk/
 

Something to suit everybody: a range of opportunities

At this Centre you will be able to look through your local volunteering opportunities and talk over the possibilities. You’ll probably be surprised at the range of opportunities, from working for the National Trust or a local museum to your local hospital, advising people, helping with driving and transport or with environmental activities. Whether you enjoy active outdoorsy things, or prefer to be inside and using your brain more, or are feeling the loss of the office gossip, or know you are a good listener you would be a great volunteer. Local charities all depend on volunteers to keep them up and running. Not only the public facing, tin shaking fundraiser, but all the other tasks that make their organisations sustainable. Besides all the administrative side or being a valued trustee of the group, it’s volunteers that actually carry out the main work of many charities. It’s volunteers who visit people who have been victims of crime, who might be advising you at the CAB, who man the tea stall at the hospital, clear the paths in the countryside, might be the guides in the museum, help children to read at primary school.
 
The list is endless and there is bound to be something that you would really enjoy doing. Besides the feeling good aspect of doing something worthwhile in your community, you will make new friends and learn new things. You will be trained in whatever role you choose, your expenses should be covered and you can even choose whether you want to do something on a regular basis or would prefer more of a being ’on call’ situation.
 
Among the ways in which volunteers can help are: contributing your specialised expertise (eg as accountant/lawyer or whatever)/as a governor, board or committee member/as coach or counsellor/as carer/in administration/ in fund-raising/for general help/support.

Volunteering is increasingly popular

Working for charities and voluntary organisations has increased substantially over the last decade: as Gap Years have continued to become more sophisticated, as people have taken breaks from full-time employment, as people have taken earlier retirement, and as employees have found that such work expands their skills and enhances their CVs. At present, the government is putting substantial sums of pump-priming support into the sector, seen by some cynics as because it is seen as a cheaper and more effective alternative to aspects of community care. Charities and voluntary organisations are becoming increasingly professional, and one of the results of this is that in some cases the status of volunteers within a charity is being slightly down-graded.

What you will get out of it; and some of the risks

Among the rewards that people get out of volunteering are: being able to give, to give back, to give from one’s accumulated experience, to contribute one’s skills or talents where they are really beneficial, and/or will make a significant difference, to provide the opportunity to do something completely different, to learn, to feel that one can still be useful and contribute; or perhaps more mundanely, to fill one’s new-found hours of freedom, or just to get out of the house!

Different forms of voluntary contributions involve different amounts of time, different degrees of responsibility and different extents of involvement. Ask questions about precisely what you are going to do, what you are agreeing to and what is your commitment. Charities and voluntary organisations are sometimes criticised for failing to define and describe clearly enough the nature of jobs for which they are seeking volunteers; for failing to provide necessary support; for failing to make volunteers feel that they are a part of the organisation; and for failing to take sufficient account of the talents, the motives and the wishes of individual volunteers, with the result that their volunteers magically disappear into thin air! Sometimes volunteers also express concern about becoming unable to get out of their commitments to the organisations to which they contribute.

Information about volunteering

Local Councils often maintain information about local opportunities for volunteering, local libraries usually have notice boards on which voluntary organisations advertise for help; local papers carry advertisements for voluntary help; the Guardian is a good source of information; some professional organisations maintain registers of opportunities for volunteering (eg the Institute of Chartered Accountants), and specialised journals (eg in education) advertise for volunteer help. Individual charities have newsletters and journals in which they advertise opportunities for volunteering.
 
 
See also:
 
Links to general volunteering and charity websites that will match your interests and skills with an appropriate cause that needs hour help.
 
Links to voluntary work and charities covering specific areas, from working with young people or volunteering in sport to helping inspire youngsters into science engineering and technology. 
 
Jobs on Offer for specific voluntary and charity jobs currently on offer, including trusteeships.