Sometimes, it doesn’t work out like that though. I was talking to a friend the other day, and she said, “My experience of volunteering is of petty politics and being expected to do more than I wanted to.” Judging by a recent report by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, this is not an uncommon situation. One bad experience and people don’t ever want to do it again.
So, what can you do to make sure that your volunteering is rewarding and fun?
1. Decide what the boundaries of your commitment are and make them clear to the group organiser.
Although it may seem uncomfortable at first, this really does help to clarify expectations. I find it helpful to know what my team members are going to do / not do when I’m leading a project, and I find it liberating in my own volunteering.
2. Take commitments seriously.
If you’re not sure whether you can do something, don’t commit to it. If you’ve committed to doing something, do it. And if you find that circumstances change, let the group organiser know as soon as possible. It’ll give them a chance to plug the gap, and stop you from worrying.
3. Don’t feel guilty.
You can’t do everything. That’s OK, there’s no need to feel guilty about it.
4. If you don’t like the culture of the organisation, change it or join another group instead.
I’ve done both in the past. You don’t always have to stay and battle it out; sometimes it’s better just to look for another option.
5. If you find you’re not enjoying yourself, do something else instead.
This is supposed to be a rewarding and enriching experience for you as well as for the people you’re helping. There will inevitably be moments of dissatisfaction, but if these are not outweighed by the positives, then it’s time to consider the alternatives.
6. Accept the fact that people volunteer for different reasons.
Some people will want to further the aims of the organisation, some will be volunteering for the social contact, and some will want to enhance their CV. If you can, embrace these differences and you’ll benefit from the rich diversity that they bring.
As children, my sister and I used to organise an annual garden fete to raise money for Save the Children Fund. If you enjoy organising events, why not organise one for a charity close to your heart? Events can be small scale, like a tea party for a few friends, all the way through to massive events involving thousands of people. Pick something that suits you, or join a fundraising team and organise something together.
Alternatively, if you’d like to raise funds for a variety of charities, consider joining your local Lions club.
As a child, I used to do gymnastics at a club run completely by volunteers. I was also a Girl Guide and Venture Scout – led by volunteers. What dedication! I, and millions of others, have benefitted hugely from the generosity of volunteers running organisations like these.
I have led, organised and participated on conservation working holidays with BTCV. The National Trust runs a similar programme. What a fantastic way to spend a holiday; doing valuable conservation work in beautiful places, with a great group of people.
I have also WWOOF’ed, helping people who produce organic food in exchange for board and lodging, had great fun and met incredible characters.
I’ve done these things in the UK, but opportunities exist all around the world.
I have helped people with severe physical disabilities to swim, children in deprived areas to learn to read and a woman with learning disabilities to attend evening classes. There’s a myriad of different opportunities to help people in this way. Keep an eye out in your local paper for organisations you might want to help, talk to your local volunteer centre or check out opportunities on the Do-It website.
I am currently a Fellowship Councillor. If you have skills that you think a national board might find useful, why not talk to some organisations and see whether they have vacancies?
The volunteer work I’ve done has been very satisfying in lots of different ways. I’ve had the opportunity to organise events, have a positive effect on other people’s lives, improve wildlife habitats and influence the direction of various groups.