What You Need To Consider Before You Volunteer

What You Need To Consider Before You Volunteer
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By Lisa Orban

I’ve recently interviewed people from all walks of life on the ways they volunteer they time for charity. As I result I’ve pieced together their words of wisdom and experience to bring to our attention the five things you need to know before volunteering for charity work. Following these five pieces of advice will ensure that anyone can find a charity that suits their personal brand, while at the same time enhancing their own reputation and experience, and increasing personal satisfaction as they help the charity in question: a perfect win-win scenario.

1. Choose a charity you have empathy or passion for

This will help you stick with it when things get rough. Chef Hulya Erdal works with the homeless, deprived families and people recovering from addictions by helping them prepare hearty and healthy meals on a budget. She finds her personal experience directs her passion: "I've grown up in a deprived area of London, I'm working class and have experienced some of what these people have gone through (domestic violence for instance). I can empathise with them and relate to some of their difficulties."

A love for dogs led Adam Baxter to both set up his own company, Running with Dogs and help at the Dogs Trust: "I have always loved dogs. I've grown up with them and had a family dog since being 4 years old...I have always been interested in helping them whenever I can whether it be me actually working for a charity, sharing posts on social media or giving people contact details of dog charities."

2. Do a little research

Charities have to adhere to strict guidelines and it's worth just researching, as much as you are able, to make sure the charity of your choice is above board. Lawyer Peter King is the legal adviser for a number of charities of varying sizes. He suggest that "It's certainly worth doing some due diligence on the charities with which you are involved first."

Chef Simon Boyle, the vision behind the Beyond Food Foundation and Brigade Bar & Bistro, agrees that research is important: "Think about what you want to get out of it as much as what you want to put in. There's no need to rush in all guns blazing. Think about initially just having a coffee or face to face meeting to see if there are gaps that you can fill."

3. Take it seriously

Many of our volunteers made the point that many charities don't have the time and resources to train or retrain you. They want and need people who can hit the ground running. Michael Linnington of the iconic V & A says "My main piece of advice is to take it seriously and treat it as you would employment. Charitable organisations, especially in the current climate, function as businesses do and are under immense pressure to perform; it can be condescending to think of charities otherwise... Be realistic with your capabilities in relation to your other commitments and really consider what the role will entail: do you really want to go to additional business meetings outside of your day job? Are you prepared to ask for favours from your network? Are you comfortable to publicly advocate for a cause when it's maybe fallen out of favour? Don't volunteer because you think you should; volunteer because you want to and are sure you can make a tangible difference."

Annie Brooks also reiterates this message: "I would say is that you have to treat it seriously, just like paid work. You must be reliable because as a volunteer; you have a responsibility to the organisation you are working for. Your job as a volunteer is to make life easier for them, not harder (by being unreliable)."

4. Collaborate

Annabel Kaye shares her professional knowledge on disability rights with sufferers of endometriosis. Her advice is get used to the idea of teamwork: "I am big picture and it suits me to work with detail people to get things happening. The best results are a team job so become a team player. It will take about twice as long as you imagined - but it will be worth it - not just the fundraising but the people who work alongside you make it worthwhile."

5. Do as much as you can

A resounding theme is that little donations, whether it's cash or time, do add up. The Rev Ingrid Scott who runs her own charitable Trust, makes the point that "Anything, however small, is needed. You may think giving £5 is hardly worth the bother but £5 can feed 50 children a bowl of rice for a day. It's not about "when I have time or money": the time is now. And presentation and public speaker Susan Heaton Wright echoes that with "Even an hour a week could make a huge difference to someone else, and the rewards for you could be immense. Go for it: volunteer and step up!"

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About Dr Lisa Orban

Bringing together her extensive training, experience and passion in both psychology and branding, Dr Lisa Orban founded Golden Notebook. A clinical psychologist, Lisa trained and practised in New York City for eleven years before relocating to London. Lisa helps clients make a name for themselves by discovering their distinct and authentic personal brand. She takes a unique approach to personal branding that combines psychological assessment and theory with branding strategies to create for powerful and enduring individual change and personal impact.

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