Volunteering is a pretty big thing in the UK. We even have a whole week dedicated to celebrating it: Volunteer’s Week in June every year. The ‘V word’ has become an ever more prominent feature of our everyday lives, with more companies – including Fat Beehive! – offering paid volunteering leave. But what exactly is volunteering, and does it have any benefits?
According to stats collected by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Cabinet Office’s community life survey, 38% of adults had volunteered at least once in the year 2017-18, while 22% formally volunteer at least once a month. Not too shabby really.
Gaining early skills
I suppose growing up with a mum who was out two nights of the week volunteering as a Guide Leader, it was almost inevitable that I would end up volunteering myself.
From a young age, the benefits to be gained from volunteering surrounded me; I would not have been able to become a Rainbow or Brownie had my mum not volunteered, as our local unit was too full. Volunteering gave my mum an ‘in’, so there I was, aged 5, able to make as much mess with glue and glitter and jump in as many muddy puddles as I liked with my Rainbow unit. I loved it.
By the age of 12, I was volunteering every week at my local dry-ski slope. I helped manage the boot room, learnt tons about customer service and how to run a business. At 16 I became a volunteer ski instructor, helping everyone from tiny toddlers to burly builders learn to ski.
Many people see volunteering as something people do to help others or a cause with very little reward for themselves. I disagree. I gained endless amounts from volunteering every week at the ski slope. Could I have had a second weekend job if I had chosen not to be there? Undoubtedly. Could I have earned more money to spend or save? For sure. But I gained confidence, patience, leadership skills and an easy ability to work with people of all ages. These skills have set me up far better in life than an extra £25 ever could.
From intern to editor
Before joining Fat Beehive, I was Website Editor for SOS Children, the UK branch of the global charity SOS Children’s Villages – the world’s largest orphan charity. I first came across the charity while at University. I was looking for an opportunity to gain some ‘hard skills’ that would make me more employable in the long-term, and a reason to stay in Cambridge over the summer. SOS Children were looking for someone they could train to help them develop sections of their website. It was an ideal role.
I learnt so much in those three months; I got to grips with a content management system, had my first content published on the internet, gained an understanding of the world of Google Analytics and developed a love of all things digital. Fast-forward two years and a couple of jobs, and I became their Website Editor. That experience gave me a great platform to take on my current role, as Fat Beehive’s Client Strategy Manager.
Volunteering is crucial to the charity sector, helping organisations grow and develop by providing support and filling skills gaps. I know volunteering and unpaid internships receive a lot of bad press and that lots of people are critical of charities that use volunteers and interns. Others worry that volunteers take up the space that would otherwise be available for job seekers. While this can sometimes happen, volunteering isn’t just a case of companies, organisations and charities having access to an endless supply of free labour, or of market crowding. As my experience and millions of others’ has hopefully demonstrated, volunteers can have the chance to get properly involved, doing much more than making tea. The message to take away here is that volunteering is much more than a one-way street.
So how can you lend a hand? I would encourage you to find out more about the work of our amazing charity clients. Maybe they’ll have an opportunity for you to get involved! Or for a broad starting point, look over NCVO’s list of ways to get involved. It’ll be an investment in yourself!
Abi Calver is a digital professional and Client Strategy Manager for Fat Beehive. She is dedicated to the charity sector and has over 14 years of volunteering experience.