Volunteering can often be a great way to get involved, boost your knowledge in a particular sector and gain more skills or training. It is also said to be a way to get your foot in the door. You will hear about any new vacancies first, and when you apply they already know who you are and what you can do.
However this being said, employers have begun using volunteers to fill the gap in their employee base; using volunteers more and more frequently to do the job of a paid member of staff. Also, it may be often the case that they are happy to take you as a volunteer as the love all your skills and what you bring to their organisation or company, but when you do apply for a job opening with them and undergo interview suddenly you’re not so good.
Below are my tips for volunteering, to safeguard you and ensure employers don’t take advantage; as they will if you let them.
- Be choosy. Look at an organisation or company that meets your requirements. Consider what role you want to do, what skills you have to offer and also don’t forget what it is you want to learn and the training you hope to receive.
- Consider their overall training, support and development package carefully. You would think that charitable organisations for example have invested in these things, however I have found this is not the case due to their funding restrictions. They may not even have meetings for you attend, information to provide to you or supervision meetings to check your progress; but then often they don’t have these for their staff either (so, go figure). In reality they may have very little to actually offer their volunteers in any of these areas, some might not even provide travel expenses and you may have to pay for your own DBS. Just decide what you are willing to give and concede upon before you jump in with both feet.
- DBS, on this I suggest if you are considering volunteering or a job working with vulnerable adults, children and young people arrange your own portable DBS, via the update service. It costs £13 a year to update and is usable in any place you go. I suggest an enhanced disclosure as this covers the above areas. I do know some charities are super finicky though. For example; you may actually be in the education sector working with a portable DBS, but if you decide to volunteer in another educational sector they may insist that you undergo another disclosure. This will cost money, and can take some time depending on how many occasions you have moved home in the previous 5 years and where you have moved to. I recently had a small disagreement over this myself, as I couldn’t quite fathom why my potable DBS was good in one educational sector but not to become a volunteer at a school.
- Many organisations now want a long term commitment from volunteers, and also guaranteed working hours per week. This is because the work often replaces what should be the role of a paid member of staff. This often goes against the flexibility of volunteering; most people cannot commit over long periods or to hours during the week, if they already work for example or have other commitments. I would always enquire whether they have short term project you can become engaged within, that way you won’t be tied down and feel bored in one role and area; you can also then do more volunteering elsewhere.
- Again, check that the volunteer role you are applying for is the one you want to do. This can change depending on what they want and when. It is no good if you wish to raise funds in the community and you are stuck doing administration behind a desk. Volunteer posts are often unclarified from the start though, and although actual paid employment isn’t recruited to the best standard, volunteer recruitment can be even more badly organised and thought through.
- In consideration to point 5, many places may not have a designated Volunteer Co-ordinator who is responsible for recruitment, or the one person in that role is part time and is expected to do quite a substantial role. It can be the case that as a result of having no Volunteer Co-ordinator or one who is stretched to their limit, recruitment isn’t up to the mark. The problem with many charities/organisations and business is that they don’t treat the recruitment of volunteers as central to their growth, and don’t really invest that much thought to how they usually recruit their staff; therefore you often have huge time delay in response from them regarding your request to volunteer, their processing of meeting with you to discuss, processing of your DBS and reference checks. Either be patient or chase them up, but of course you could go elsewhere. You are after all doing them the favour, and if they need someone ASAP they should be onto it ASAP. Harsh, no it is merely the truth.
- If all else fails get something verbally agreed and drafted as a contract regarding your role and your duties, and of course the time frame to cover the volunteering. This is especially the case if you are going somewhere and they promise you a volunteer role will become a paid role after a trial period. Ensure they stick to this promise. This type of volunteering should always be carried out under strict timeframes; 4 to 6 weeks. Any longer and they are using you as free labour, and you won’t get that promised job.
- Reflecting on point 7, watch out for this as often employers or organisations will use a vast amount of volunteers for short time frame; such as running up the Xmas period. They promise you the job at the end of that time period, but miraculously after the 6 weeks are up so too are you. They then move onto another free member of staff to take your place, with the same promise attached.
Hope this helps all would be volunteers out there; if you have questions please let me know and I am happy to help you.