Volunteering is a superb way of using spare time productively, usually for the benefit of a good cause. It’s also a great way to develop your own skills and an easy way to make new friends too.
Volunteering is good for the volunteer and good for the organisation that you’re volunteering for. Whilst the organisation gets the benefit of your efforts for free, you get all sorts of benefits in return. It’s what known as a ‘win-win’ situation.
The whole process is based around goodwill. You give up your time and commit to taking on various activities for the organisation (that might include among others, fundraising, caring for people or light manual work) whilst in return you collect valuable experience and skills that you can use in other aspects of your life such as improving your CV or learning new skills. Some would say that there’s also an element of ‘karma’ involved and that ‘good things happen to good people.’ Perhaps they’re right since volunteering certainly can’t harm your prospects.
The list of benefits for individuals that get involved in volunteering is pretty lengthy. For disabled people, volunteering can be the first step to a more inclusive approach to life. It might be that you’ve recently become disabled or that your disability has proven difficult to live with and has sapped some of your confidence as a result. Volunteering is a great way to get out of the house and start to build (or rebuild) some self esteem. What could be more satisfying than seeing the fruits of your labour improving the lives of people in your local community (or beyond)?
Depending on the volunteering project you get involved with, you may also be expected or offered the opportunity to become trained in a particular area. This may be the case if you volunteer to work in a charity shop where you’ll need to understand how to work the till or ‘merchandise’ the stock and so on. Of course, such training is free but could end up making all the difference to an employer who happens to be looking for an experienced shop assistant. Hey presto, you get the job!
Some volunteering ca be used as a vehicle specifically towards a given qualification or accreditation where a certain skillset or a specific length of experience is required. Whatever your motives, you’ll always come out of volunteering knowing more than you did before you started, (picking up ideas on man management, time management, organisation, responsibility, teamwork and leadership) meaning that you’ll be able to draw on those experiences later.
It doesn’t take an expert to realise that the world is a competitive place and you’ll already know that disabilities can add complications and challenges to life. Volunteering gives disabled people a head start and can be scaled to their abilities and ambitions. It’s a great opportunity to try something new. Because volunteering doesn’t come with a rigid employment contract, it means that if it isn’t for you, it’s simple enough to discuss issues with the supervisor to resolve things or otherwise look into another project altogether.
As well as providing a good base to gain new skills (or develop existing ones) there are other benefits that are equally important. Generally speaking, you’ll have selected the project you’re volunteering with for certain reasons. Maybe it’s a cause you really believe in or the volunteering is based around an activity that you enjoy (tending gardens, assisting in a shop or shaking a collecting tin), in any case, other people will have volunteered for similar reasons. This means, of course that you’re likely to meet lots of like-minded people that you’ll get on with and who have interests and outlooks close to your own. The social side of volunteering is really valuable, especially to disabled people taking their first foray back ‘outside’ after a sustained period of isolation. The people you’re working with are very likely to supportive of you as part of the ‘team’.
As I’ve mentioned, there is a huge amount of choice regarding the type of volunteering you could get involved with. You might choose to pursue certain avenues because of the type of activities on offer or because they will lead you to a certain qualification or experience but equally you may have a different agenda. It’s possible that if you passionately believe in a certain cause or issue and that there will be volunteering opportunities in that sector. Such options could include, working with animals, children, elderly people, disabled people or even for bodies that want to make a political impact. The good thing is that the choice is completely yours. What is also certain is that volunteers are always welcome.
Making a choice
Other aspects to consider when selecting the organisation you’d like to get involved with might include the location of the project/activity and it’s impact. You may feel strongly about supporting your own community rather than a national or international concern. Practical considerations could also steer you in certain directions. You may not be able to volunteer on certain days or at certain times. Even if you have a full time job volunteering isn’t out of the question assuming you’re prepared to use your evenings or weekends.
Organisations that take on volunteers will each have their own ways of recruiting and working with them. Because volunteers are so valuable they will generally attempt to make the process of getting involved as simple as possible although you should expect to fill out a few bits of paperwork. (Just as paid for employees, volunteers need to be treated properly and have certain rights to proper procedures and so on.)
Very often organisations will have a volunteers section on their website where you’ll be able to get the first contact done. Otherwise, particularly local organisations might choose to drum up volunteering support through local press or cards on the library notice board or post office window. After initial contact you’ll probably be invited to attend an interview. This isn’t as scary as it sounds and won’t be like a job interview. Firstly, organisations will want to say ‘yes’ to you but will want to ascertain how your skills fit in and to find out a bit more about you and what you want to get out of volunteering. After that it’s just a case of scheduling your time.
Even when you’ve signed up you’ve still got plenty of options and are under no obligation to take part in anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Having said that, it’s good sense to explore if there are alternative volunteering activities available with that organisation and it isn’t fair to ‘walk out’ without notice. You could choose to volunteer on an annual basis (perhaps shaking a tin at Christmas) or choose between full and part time or short term or long term. At any given point you can re-arrange things anyway.
On the whole, organisations that work regularly with volunteers will have a good handle on how they should be treated. There are a few things that you can look out for to make sure that everything goes smoothly and you get as much out of your volunteering experience as possible. This starts with an induction session where you’ll be given details about the organisation and its policies as well as health and safety advice and a chance to meet other staff and volunteers who you’ll be working with.
It’s also important to get the name and contact details of the person who’ll be supervising the volunteering. This is the person to go with regarding any initial queries (or issues that occur further down the line). They will probably be the person responsible for training you where necessary (all of which will depend on the role). They will also be giving ongoing supervision and assistance just to make sure that everything is running as planned.
Volunteering is a worthwhile, enriching, rewarding and fun way to spend time; the opportunities for disabled people to get involved in volunteering projects are really valuable and definitely worth embracing.
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