Why I'm Addicted to Volunteering

Why I'm Addicted to Volunteering

Charlotte Bray | 12 November 2015

I wonder sometimes whether volunteering is an addiction. Recently, I tried to free up some spare time by stepping down from two committees. I promptly took up a further three committees. Well, who needs time to eat and sleep anyway?

What is it about doing charitable work, unpaid, that makes it so very satisfying? After all, I already spend my 9-5 days doing charitable work for a salary. What is so fulfilling about not getting one?

There are two types of volunteering I particularly engage with. The first, my committee membership, largely involves the Institute of Fundraising, and so complements my paid work. The second type of volunteering, normally focusing on environmental causes, is the polar opposite of my job at St. John’s. (Well, not the exact opposite. That would be stealing money from charities. I’m not a volunteer thief). What I mean is, rather than spending lots of time in front of a computer in a window-less basement, I spend it outside in the fresh air getting muddy.

In the same way, I think the satisfaction I get from both types of volunteering is very different. As part of the Scottish Executive Committee and UK Policy Advisory Board, I am privileged to be involved in helping make decisions and give advice that in some way supports fundraisers to do their job. For me it is about removing some of the barriers that can make our work so difficult, whether that is creating new training and networking opportunities, or recommending policy changes.

The challenge for me has been to find my role within this work. I have to keep a good knowledge of the charity landscape and understand what the impact of some of our decisions will be. After a few meetings of trying not to look a) terrified; b) bemused; c) like I’m in the wrong room, I think I’m getting there. As someone who has worked mainly for smaller charities, this is a particular role I can play, allowing their voices to be heard. On the UK committee, as the only Scottish representative, this is particularly important.

Sometimes committee work can require a bit of imagination and far sightedness to see where the impact lies. With environmental work, it normally lies right in front of you, in the form of a big fluffy seal pup, a litter free river or a happy puffin. (OK, that’s anthropomorphism, but I think the puffins look happy). There is also something very satisfying about doing physically demanding tasks. We work hard, cutting down weeds, scrambling over rocks and removing unsightly objects from beaches and rivers. There are no deadlines, but there are goals. Every day brings the experience of a job well done, making that post volunteering tea and cake feel well earned.

But of course, with all my volunteering no matter what form it might take, it is the people who really make it enjoyable. I meet so many diverse individuals. Whether they are volunteering because they love the outdoor environment, because they enjoy the sense of satisfaction, or they want to make new friends, everyone I meet is interesting in their own way. Whatever the background or motivation, we are all ultimately united in a desire to make our mark on society and leave the world in a better state than we found it in. 

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