Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Is volunteering worth it?

I have a 20 month old daughter, I work full time and I also volunteer as Chair of the local branch of a national charity. My life is exhausting and as it's Volunteers' Week I thought I should write about whether spending so much of my time volunteering is worth it.

I have voluntarily handed over a share of my time to support charities since I was little. As a child I helped out occasionally in a charity shop and at University (and beyond) I was very involved with the student fundraising group RAG through which I helped raise awareness of charities as well as hundreds of thousands of pounds. I also taught in schools about drugs awareness and harm minimisation.

Through volunteering I have made many friends and it has helped me develop new skills. When I left university and was applying for jobs my degree ticked a box, but the interview questions were all answered with experiences from volunteering.

Becoming the coordinator (Chair) of a branch of a charity was an accident. I volunteered for another role, but when I went along to the first meeting I discovered the old Chair was stepping down (without a replacement) and we needed a new Treasurer too. I decided it would be more beneficial to the branch to have a Chair.

Over the next few months it slowly unravelled what a mess the branch was in:
Our accounts were over a year behind and there were no records or receipts.
We had very few volunteers and all but two of those remaining wanted to step down.
There were several unresolved complaints about our last event.
The regional and national support network of the charity was pretty unresponsive due to vacancies.

Since getting involved I have focused our resources on the activities that make the biggest difference to local parents (the charity supports people during pregnancy and the early years). I have managed to bring in a number of new volunteers, but lost them again because I haven't spent enough time with them to get them properly established. Most of our volunteers are parents with small children and competing pressures often mean the charity is forgotten.
To Do List on Moleskine
3 weeks ago was our annual meeting. It was advertised and open to everyone. 2 people attended (one of which was me). I made the painful decision that if we didn't get more support urgently I would step down, effectively meaning the branch would close.

I wrote an email and sent it to around 1500 members, ex members and class attendees. I said we urgently needed more volunteers or the branch would close. Fortunately I had about 20 replies which I am now working through and trying to convert into active volunteers.

Among the replies there was one from a husband saying that his wife had tried to get involved with a group, but they were too cliquey and maybe if we were nicer people we wouldn't be struggling for volunteers. After all the hours I have been putting in recently this email made me cry, angry and wonder why I was bothering. After an early night I have been able to refocus on the other emails which contain positive comments like those below:

  • "It would be terrible if we lost our local branch"
  • "I am saddened to hear the local branch is considering closing. The (charity) was the most enormous help to me when I had my daughter 2 years ago."
  • "I attended a ... group when I had my 2 year old and many of us are still friends plus I have just been away with one couple and their little girl."
  • "It would be a terrible shame if (the branch) were to close. My contacts with the branch last summer came at a critical time for me having just had my daughter. I remember clearly the first ... meet and it's in no small part down to these early meetings that I have so many local mummy friends now and am still breast feeding 11 months on."
  • "Having had my first son in May 2012, meeting new mums through a ... Group was such a great support, especially in the early days! Whilst you've said this service won't be affected it would be so sad if other groups and sales ceased to exist due to a lack of volunteers."
These are the comments I now focus on when I want to go to bed or spend an evening relaxing in front of the TV. The services I am helping to provide are making a difference.

I would love to say the branch is now hugely successful. It isn't, but I'm hopeful we will get there.

5 ways my life is better due to volunteering

  • Most of my close friends were made through volunteering
  • Volunteering helped me get on the job ladder and climb it faster
  • Volunteering while on maternity leave helped keep my brain active and eased the transition back into work.
  • Volunteering can remind you how lucky you really are and appreciate your life more.
  • Knowing that I have made a real difference to just one person's life is amazing. The more I volunteer the more people I help and the more rewarding it is.

So is volunteering worth it?

Yes, most of the time. It can be a challenge, but it's fun and rewarding too.

1 comment:

  1. Lik a lot of things, it's work. Usually, there is some sort of reward on an emotional level, even if it is taxing on a physical on. :)


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