It was Volunteers’ Week here in the UK (as well as Women’s Sport Week, in fact – nice profile of boxer Nicola Adams here on role models). It doesn’t seem to make many headlines outside the charity sector – yet the scale of volunteer work in this country is much larger, surely, than most people realise. 15.2m people in the UK (nearly a quarter of the entire population) volunteer each month; 0f the 164,000 registered charities, an amazing 90% have no paid staff, not to mention an estimated 150,000 further, non-registered organisations, also run by volunteers.
It’s not only the actual work these people do that matters, though. It’s also how they do it, according to research recently published by VSO (my current placement): by giving time for free to help a good cause, volunteers are expressing values of solidarity and citizenship that can prompt knock-on effects on others. As a headteacher in Nepal said, according to the research, “when the volunteer came to help, the [local community] think if someone can come to help us, we can help each other”.
I’m a huge believer in the power of volunteering – where it doesn’t exploit people or exonerate those responsible from providing a service – so I asked my On Purpose colleagues to write about their experience of voluntary work.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a transitional leadership programme, the three contributors focused on the role volunteering plays in a career shift. Loes van Rheen explained why matching her skills to the right opportunity was so crucial – and ultimately led to a dramatic change of direction. Rachael Ibbott shared how volunteering has helped build experience she needed and taught her a lot along the way. And Constanca Santos reminded us how important it is to consciously reflect on and learn from the experience to get the full benefit.