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Six things you need to know about volunteering

From the Experts: 6 Things You Need To Know From International Volunteer Day

  • International Volunteer Day fell on December 5th 
  • In 2014-15, 69% of people in the UK did some form of volunteering
  • Charity representatives and experienced volunteers explain what you need to know before doing volunteering work

As the world is winding down from International Volunteer Day on December 5th 2015, the team at Personnel Checks asked a range of experts - from charity representatives to seasoned volunteers - for some handy tips for first-timers to follow.

According to the latest Community Life Survey - which is commissioned by the Cabinet Office - 69% of people in the UK had volunteered at least once in 2014-15. This figure was down by 5% on the previous year, although the number of people partaking in “formal volunteering” rose slightly to 42% over the same period.

It is hoped that the awareness raised by #IVD2015 will help to swell these healthy figures even further, but before you put your name forward for voluntary roles, it’s important that you know what organisations expect from you. Here’s what the experts have to say…

1)    Passion for the cause

All of our experts told us that you MUST have a passion and genuine interest in what you’re doing - otherwise you’re unlikely to give the role the amount of effort that it deserves.

Nikki Squelch, Head of Volunteering Development at Alzheimer’s Society, commented:

“It’s very important our volunteers have an interest in the work Alzheimer’s Society do. A passion for the cause will allow volunteers to get so much more out of the role and be more motivated in their volunteering.

“People with dementia and their carers who use our services often tell us that they like volunteers who are compassionate, empathetic and patient. Whilst they may not remember the volunteer’s name week to week, they will remember how they left them feeling.”

 from Jerry Green Dog Rescue, added:

“When volunteers with great passion for our cause join our team, they can not only deliver exceptional care for our dogs, but they can also communicate our message to those they meet.”

2)    Commitment - even though you’re not getting paid!

Many of us lead busy lives, and it’s natural that you’ll prioritise paid work over volunteering. That said, charities and support groups still need you to be punctual and committed. If you fail to turn up on a given day, the effects could be felt by a lot of people.

Alice Atkinson, Director of Income Generation and Communications at Bolton Hospice, said all volunteering roles are different and require varying levels of commitment.

“Anyone with some spare time and a willingness to help others is a great candidate for volunteering. For some roles such as those in our charity shops or on our ward we ask for a regular weekly commitment, but there are other roles that don’t require this, such as helping out at fundraising events.”

Suzanne Monks, who is a regular volunteer for Bolton Lads & Girls Club, explained that voluntary work isn’t the easy ride that some expect, but the hard work is worthwhile.

“Being a volunteer isn't as easy as you think, you don't just sit down all day and have a chill. You work hard and have to keep yourself motivated. It's amazing and rewarding in so many ways. You really feel like you are making a difference.”

3)    Don’t be offended if you’re asked to complete a DBS check

Depending on the type of work you’re interested in, you may be required to complete a DBS check, particularly if you’re going to be working with children or vulnerable people.

Alice Wrigley, Operations Manager at DBS checks specialist Personnel Checks, gave some details about the process.

“DBS Checks (formerly CRB Checks) are available for volunteers at both Standard and Enhanced level. Volunteer checks are offered to organisations and charities at a discounted rate.In order for an applicant to qualify for a Volunteer Check they must notreceive any payment (except for travel and other approved out-of-pocket expenses, be on a placement, be on a course that requires them to do this job role, or be in a trainee position that will lead to a full-time role or qualification).

“The Volunteer DBS Check can only be applied for by the Organisation or Charity that the individual is working for. An individual cannot apply for a Volunteer DBS Check on their own accord.”

4)    Don’t do it for the sake of your CV

We’re constantly told that volunteering work looks great on our CV, but that doesn’t mean you should do it for the sake of it. If you’re doing it as a tick-box exercise, you won’t get anywhere near as much out of it as someone who really cares about the cause.

Jenny Harris outlined what qualities Jerry Green Dog Rescue looks for in its volunteers.

“[We need you to] be as passionate as we are about what you can do to help us make sure every dog has the loving and secure home it deserves; professional in showing nothing but compassion towards all our canine residents; and above all make it personal for the dogs in our care, adapting your approach to make sure they get what they need during their stay.”

Suzanne Monks believes that if you’re going to help out at a youth group, your heart has to be in it, otherwise everyone suffers.

“The youth group I volunteered with never really got any attention or love form their homes so it's so important to actually get to know them, build relationships with them and give them the attention they deserve. Speak to them on their level. Don't look down on them or speak to them like you are the teacher.”

5)    Don’t rule yourself out because you lack experience

While some roles will require certain skills, you’ll find that most organisations will provide full training to their volunteers, so don’t be too quick to take yourself out of the running because you lack experience.

Bolton Hospice has more than 900 volunteers who give a combined 100,000 hours of time each year. Alice Atkinson added:

“We offer full training, guidance and support so for most roles there’s no previous experience or special knowledge required, just some passion and enthusiasm for being a part of our team and playing a part in enabling us to provide specialist care and support for local people when they need it most.”

Meanwhile, Nikki Squelch added.

“Not everyone has [the] qualities to work directly with people with dementia so volunteering in one of our offices across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or as a Dementia Friends Champion making the local area dementia-friendly, may be another option suited to their skills and interests.

“All volunteers will have an induction and regardless of the type of role, training is provided. Some roles will need extra training to ensure volunteers meet high standards and are able to volunteer with confidence, safe in the knowledge that they are well equipped for the role.”

6)    Do your research

As we’ve already discussed, experience isn’t always a necessity, but it’s still worth doing your homework before you apply for a voluntary role. You wouldn’t take a paid job without at least asking a few questions at the interview stage and getting a flavour for what it’s like to work there. The same applies for voluntary work.

Nikki Squelch said the Alzheimer’s Society offers as much detailed information as possible when advertising new voluntary placements.

“Each of our volunteering opportunities detail exactly where the role is, what the role entails and how much time a volunteer is required to give. This allows us to be open and honest about our expectations and is helpful for volunteers to see if the opportunity is right for them from the outset.”

Jenny Harris added that Jerry Green Dog Rescue will usually find a place for someone depending on their skills and interests.

“What you really need is a real interest in working with dogs and the ability to handle animals patiently, gently and confidently if you choose to work with our dog welfare team.

“But you’re just as welcome helping out in the office or out in the community fundraising for us - every day is a new one and can be as exciting a challenge as you want it to be, or a peaceful day out walking in the woods with a friend.”

It’s a similar situation at Bolton Hospice. Alice Atkinson continued:

“We have volunteers that help in our offices, in day therapy, on the ward, driving patients to appointments, in the gardens, at fundraising events and activities, arranging flowers, in bereavement support and more, so there is usually something to suit the volunteer’s existing skill set.”

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