Between school, friends, jobs and other commitments, it’s easy to wonder how anyone can find a spare moment to draw breath, let alone spend hours each week doing things for the benefit of strangers. Yet millions of people in Australia are managing to do it!*
Interested in finding out what the go is, but need a bit of a push to move it up your list of priorities? Try thinking about what’s in it for you.
Self-centred as this might sound, giving some thought to how volunteering might complement your life will enable you to sustainably give your best to a cause or organisation that matters to you.
Got mad skills?
Contributing to a relevant cause for free is an excellent way to explore your abilities and discover things you still need to learn. Think about what you can already do that you would like to explore further.
Maybe it’s writing engaging blog posts? Persuading people to do stuff? Being a wizard on Excel? Once you’ve got that sorted, you’re read to hunt down a vollie position that allows you to make the most of what you can bring to the table.
You can start by heading online and compiling a list of organisations that are doing work that makes you feel inspired to help out. Find out which ones have a volunteer program. For those that do, get in touch and introduce yourself. Tell them about you, why you’ve contacted them and where your interests lie.
Do some research into the history and structure of an organisation you’re interested in. Find out about the broader web of issues they’re involved with. This will give you confidence to put yourself out there and ask questions that could bring you closer to finding a fulfilling career.
Sarah, a web designer who volunteers her skills informally with various organisations, believes that doing this can be a great way to get a foot through doors that might ordinarily be off limits relative to her level of experience.
“Volunteer jobs give me freedom to go out on limbs I might not be comfortable with if I was getting paid,” says Sarah. “That’s given me some unexpected opportunities so show what I can do. My portfolio is definitely stronger for it.”
Extra points if you can score a role in which you’re provided a mixture of guidance and the capacity to use your own judgement. Unless you’re already an expert in the field you’re volunteering in, you shouldn’t be expected to work completely unassisted, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show initiative by suggesting ideas or offering to take on achievable tasks that you can see need to get done.
Max, a non-profit campaign coordinator who recruits volunteers as part of his role, says, “A volunteer coordinator doesn’t necessarily have the capacity to guide you every step of the way, but they should be able to support you in working with the team towards common goals, and that includes enabling fresh, informed approaches to emerge.”
Some volunteer positions come with special perks. This is often the case in the events industry – for example, volunteering for Sydney Festival puts you in line to receive free tickets to select shows as they arise throughout the duration of the event.
In general, this kind of thing is best thought of as a bonus, rather than as a form of payment. That applies even more strongly when volunteering for charitable organisations – you can’t go in expecting to be directly compensated for your work. Even so, some charities do offer small incentives – for example, Salvo’s op-shops offer vollie discounts.
Eliese, an environmental science student who has travelled the country volunteering her labour on organic farms in exchange for meals and board, sees this experience as different to that of receiving payment in the conventional manner.
“When you’re doing something like that, you’re helping someone out because you appreciate what they’re doing – say in terms of the environmental ethics of their operations or what they’re putting out to the community – and you want to learn from them for that reason,” Eliese says.
“That was the primary incentive for me. There has to be a meeting of minds for it to work and be balanced across both parties.”
Over to you!
Clarifying what you’re doing for yourself when you volunteer can help keep you on track to genuinely wanting to do your volunteer work.
This means you’ll be able to turn up whole-heartedly and without resenting that use of your time. This, in turn, will enable you to make an inspired contribution while getting the most out of the process – it’s a win-win!
*‘Key Facts and Statistics About Volunteering in Australia’, 2015. Volunteering Australia, 16 April 2015. Available: http://www.volunteeringaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/VA-Key-statistics-about-Australian-volunteering-16-April-20151.pdf
The author has volunteered extensively and worked in volunteer coordination roles.