Some say never to give away hard labour for free, but I’ve come to disagree. In recent years I’ve started seeing many benefits to volunteering, like how it can be meaningful for the local community, but also help you improve new skills. Most of all, volunteering has been a great opportunity for me to socialise and connect with people. After moving to a new city this summer, I signed up for voluntary work again, and it’s led to a great and active summer. So for this post, I wanted to sum up some of the benefits of volunteering!
Volunteer work I’ve done
I’ll start out honestly and say that I haven’t even done that much volunteer work, but the work I have done I enjoyed very much. In 2018 I joined the Sheffield cat shelter charity shop team and helped them out with online sales, a job I hadn’t ever pictured myself doing. I stayed with them for a couple of months, until I had to quit to start preparations for my move back to the Netherlands.
This summer, I signed up to help out with Pluk de Nacht, an open air film festival in Utrecht (where I live now) and Amsterdam. I had visited the festival last year in Amsterdam and loved it very much – this type of event is right up my alley. So, when I came to Utrecht and found that I had 7 weeks of holiday to fill and no acquaintances in the city, I decided to check out the festival website to see what was going on. They happened to be looking for volunteers, including photographers, so I decided to join and hopefully get a good time and some cheerful interaction out of it, which brings me to benefit #1…
Personally, I think one of the biggest benefits of volunteering is the social aspect of it. I am very much an extrovert so I thrive on social interactions, but sometimes it can be difficult to find connections in a new place. This happened to me in Sheffield after most of my friends had left the city, and again when I moved to Utrecht where I didn’t really know anyone. In both cases my main reason for volunteering was to stay socially involved with the community. And it worked! It’s really nice to have a sense of belonging and to be part of a team. The atmosphere at my volunteering jobs was really good, so that’s definitely a nice boost as well. Plus, volunteer work doesn’t go completely reward-free: often there are some small material things you get out of it, like a thank-you box of chocolates, or free drinks after your shift.
As you may or may not know, I’ve had my ups and downs over the past few years. After a mental health relapse in 2017, I was completely out of it for a while. All of my university work was put on hold while I tried to sort out my life and my health issues. I couldn’t do any work and there were days where it was difficult to even get out of bed, so for a long time I had no routine at all. Living without a routine, without anything to do, is really hard. Getting through life with depression and other mental health problems is even more of a struggle if you have no purpose in the moment being. This is where volunteer work offered a way out: I now had somewhere to go, somewhere to be, and something to do. Every Thursday afternoon I would spend two hours at the charity shop helping out with online sales; something I could actually write down in my diary. On top of that, it meant that every week I was guaranteed to get some social interaction.
Another huge benefit here was that I could do this work at my own pace and in my own way, meaning that I could keep a better watch on my health. Had I been doing paid work, then I would have felt obliged any time to go into work and stick it out for the full run, even if I couldn’t actually cope. But in this case, because it was voluntary, it was more of a come-as-you-go-and-please work space, where they were really happy and thankful if I was there to help out, but there was absolutely no harm in me leaving early or not coming in at all if I wasn’t doing well. That helped me, and my health, a lot.
You may be wanting to work on some skills or gain new ones, but not really have a place to go for that. In my case for example, I really love photography and enjoy doing it very much, but I wouldn’t want to ask any money for my work because I don’t feel confident enough about it. On top of that, I was never educated in these skills (I literally just do whatever feels right), so it wouldn’t feel fair to me to ask people to pay me for what is essentially just a hobby. I do like keeping a portfolio though, so this is where my most recent volunteering experience came in handy: I got to practice my photography skills with subjects (aka people) all around, and Pluk de Nacht got pictures to use for whatever purpose they wanted. Another win-win. Plus, it was a total confidence boost seeing my pictures up on the website and social media.
Possibly the most obvious reason for doing any kind of volunteer work is that it’s an opportunity to give back. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean charity work in Africa, it can be anything really! Personally, I love contributing to organisations I stand for. I’ve done voluntary work that you couldn’t normally pay me to do (read: physical work), but in these cases because I felt such a strong connection to the cause, I was more than happy to do it.
Volunteering for the cat shelter was great because I adopted my cat Remi from there, so helping them out felt like a very appropriate and meaningful way to express my gratefulness and appreciation. My time with Pluk de Nacht was awesome for many reasons, but certainly the main one being that I had had such a great time as a guest there last year, that I was very eager to participate and contribute to make this year just as wonderful for others. So that was my way of giving back: you gave me such a great time last year, I’d love to pass it on.
Tips for volunteering
There are a couple of things to bear in mind when volunteering. First of all, think of what type of organisation or cause you would like to support. Preferably something close to your heart of course! Then also consider how much time you are willing to spend. As it is all voluntary, you can pretty much give away as much time as you like. But do keep in mind: once you sign up, you really should commit. It is only the decent thing to do. Last but not least, make sure all the terms are clear. Don’t expect any material rewards if they were not agreed upon, and that goes both ways. I once ended up in a situation where I was supposed to do work voluntarily for a while before getting a bit of money, but that never happened. It was very upsetting. It’s also taught me that I won’t ever give away my professional skills (i.e. teaching and/or English language-related work) for free again, or at least not without very careful consideration.
What type of volunteering jobs have you done? Or would you consider any? Let me know in the comments down below!