The personal benefits of volunteering

The Personal Benefits of VolunteeringHaving taken a long career break to raise two (now) gangly and gifted teenagers and after responding to an advert on Timewise Jobs via the Women Like Us website, in November 2013, I headed towards “Charity Towers” on the Albert Embankment, Vauxhall, with great enthusiasm and ready to get stuck into the ‘business world’ again. This stretch of the Albert Embankment houses the headquarters of the British Intelligence Headquarters (also known as MI6) and provides a compelling view of the River Thames. Charity Towers is also home to several charities including Reach Volunteering and Comic Relief.

Research has shown that those who volunteer are more likely to experience a greater sense of happiness and satisfaction. There is something oddly rewarding about putting one’s past experience to good use without expecting huge financial or professional gain.  I suppose one could say that volunteering helps create a sense of cohesion in a society where all too often people are driven by capitalist motives. Volunteering, particularly skilled volunteering is geared towards those who have professional skills whether currently in or out of work, but of course it looks good on your CV too.

Volunteering attracts people who have some time and there is a wide range of skill sets on offer. An older experienced individual may fit volunteering around work/into their lifestyle or a younger person may simply be filling in the gaps between jobs. Or there are those who are simply passionate about a cause and want to give back to society. You tailor your volunteering work to suit your schedule so you do not feel swamped (it is important to avoid this!) or suffer the burnout that many with paid jobs may experience. In fact, some larger companies have actively started encouraging volunteering, giving their employees time off to use their skills to help their communities at large.

Volunteering adds a spring to one’s step. Research has shown that even when you have hung up your work boots, are experiencing a career break or developing a business idea, volunteering can help give an additional sense of purpose and help fight against anxiety and depression. Like charity work, your focus switches onto others rather than yourself.  When you know that a fledgling organisation rather than a large corporation relies on your skills and expertise, you are more likely to make it into work even if you’re not feeling eighty percent.  It’s like an unspoken contract.

I have enjoyed coming back into the workplace, engaging with a team which consists of writers, marketing and HR professionals, a Fleet Street editor (me) and reporter all working towards a shared altruistic purpose and using a different part of one’s brain other than the one reserved for a different kind of problem solving.  When I worked as a financial journalist, the third sector was viewed with suspicion and often as an irritant. It’s given me a useful insight into the third sector and renewed skills which I hope to use going forward.

If you want to get back into work have you ever considered voluntary work as a stepping stone? It helps with confidence, develops your networks and gives you an opportunity to explore different avenues.  Visit the Reach website to find out which of our voluntary opportunities might suit you. A charity themselves, Reach Volunteering’s large and committed team of skilled volunteers supports a small paid staff of only 7, providing a core service nationally in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and regionally throughout England. Who says Reach doesn’t practice what it preaches?  

Marketing and Communications volunteer

If you want to find out more about getting back into work after a career break, on the Women Like Us website there are a few suggestions of how to help women find work. The organisation also runs courses for women who may have been out of the job market for a while to raise children and now feel work ready. 

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