The Power of Volunteering

“We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give”. Winston Churchill

Let’s explore and see if I can help you decide if volunteering is for you. Many of you will already be engaged in some way but transitioning to retirement is a great time to think again what part, if any, does it have to play in your life. We’re going to look at the reasons for volunteering, what factors you should consider, how to decide what to do, how to source opportunities and how to get them.

So what is Volunteering?

I have found the word itself can sometimes put people off. Essentially we are giving of our time and skills to a good cause without being paid for it. It might be for a charity, a community group, participating in a voluntary organisation eg Rotary, Lions etc, an old people’s home, a hospital. The list is endless but it doesn’t have to be a formal organisation. Just helping our neighbours, possibly the neighbourhood watch, is equally valuable.

We all know this unpaid work makes a significant contribution to our economy. It is difficult to quantify but the quality of life for all of us would be considerably worse without it. This has become more so in recent times. The difficulty of funding public services today is one with which we are all familiar and it is the voluntary sector that steps in to try and fill the gap. So whatever you do makes a difference.

Why volunteer?

I would refer you back to the quote which opened this blog. Giving is the first key to happiness according to the worldwide Action for Happiness movement who have researched extensively what makes us happy. I won’t go into all the scientific reasons here but they are conclusive. So by making a difference to others we make a difference to ourselves.

I write elsewhere about how to keep healthier for longer and this is one of the core components. A study by BMC Public Health found that” taking time to work in a soup kitchen on a weekly basis reduced mortality rates by 22%”. So think of the What’s In It For You (WIFY) factor. Here’s a few reasons to get you thinking:

· Improves my health and wellbeing

· Improves my self esteem

· Makes me feel better about myself

· Just knowing I have made a difference

· Feel better, both physically and mentally

· Meeting others and building friendships

· A chance to use my most loved skills and talents

· I learn so much

· Creates meaning

· It might help me get paid work at a later stage

· A sense of belonging

· Helps put structure in my life

I’ll be surprised if you can’t find something on that list that would attract you.

Factors To consider

Before going too far once you have thought about the why, think about how much time you want to commit. Finding the best balance across all your activities is essential to a successful retirement so think carefully where would volunteering fit in and how much time do you wish to give to it. Consider your need for flexibility. Can you fulfil a regular commitment given commitments to family (elderly parent, grandchildren), holidays or maybe visiting a home abroad? You should also think about how you feel about not being paid because this does not sit comfortably with everybody. And do you want to be doing it on your own or being part of a team?

How to decide what to do?

There are such a myriad of things you could do so where do I start. Well begin with yourself. As I write in the Purpose blog on this site work through what are your best skills from which you derive pleasure using, think about your values (things that important to you), what causes or issues do you feel strongly about and where you might want to help.

Do you wish to be “hands on” eg working in a food bank, retail outlet or do you want to be in a more strategic, governance role such as a trustee? Possibly both? My coaching programme covers all this in much more depth.

Sources of opportunities

As with jobs the most frequent way is through “word of mouth”. Listening and talking to friends/family and following up on leads is the most popular. Once you are interested and show it then it won’t be long before you have accumulated, not only possibilities, but others asking you. This is why it is so key that you have given thought to what YOU want to do, not what others WANT you to do. This way you are in control!

There are some very good websites (which I propose to put on the site shortly) but a few top ones are;

Do-it National volunteering database

Charity Job

RSVP cover a range including community care, transport services, befriending, musical activities for older people and schools programme

RVS mobilises volunteers to support those in need, in hospital and in the community.

Reach Volunteering skills based volunteering. Lots of trustee type roles

Have a good look around and it will soon stimulate ideas!

How to get the positions you want?

I would approach all these as professionally as you would going for a paid job. It is worth having a suitable CV, be able to construct relevant covering letters and brush up on your interviewing skills.

The selection process will vary. More of the above needed if you apply for a charity trustee role than working in the food bank for a couple of hours a week.

Always remember all these organisations have a reputation to protect and they still have high standards. It is a mistake to think that because you are volunteering that second best will do. It won’t. So always go about it professionally.

If you want further help then just contact me. Details on the site.

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