“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”
It’s Volunteer Week!! And to mark the occasion – which is a special opportunity to thank those who really are the bread and butter for a lot of charities and organizations – I’m collaborating with St Oswald’s Hospice to bring you this blog post full of tips to get a voluntary job, ways to thank the volunteers in your organisation, and information on how St Oswald’s are supporting their Volunteers through the Coronavirus Lockdown! Enjoy!
So, quite a while ago I made the decision to apply for a new voluntary role with St Oswald’s Hospice; a charitable Hospice based in the North East of England who provide outstanding, specialist, and expert care to adults and children with life-limiting conditions. I saw the position as a Digital Comms and Marketing Volunteer on the www.do-it.org site (a platform where charities and organizations can post volunteer vacancies) and after reading the job description, I immediately hit the ‘apply’ button and was so happy when I received the offer of an interview with some of the Digital staff at St Oswald’s.
When they said that they’d seen I’d talked about running I’m NOT Disordered in my application, they asked if it’d be ok that they give it a read before meeting with me and my initial thought was ‘if they read it they’ll definitely cancel the interview!’ It was in no way anything that St Oswald’s had or hadn’t done, the thought was purely based on previous experience with other organisations and individuals. Fortunately, having spent seven years being brutally open and honest about my mental health on my blog, I’m at the point where I have nothing to be ashamed of, and I have the mindset now that if an organisation were to cancel an opportunity because of something they’d read on my blog then they’d be someone I wouldn’t want to work for anyway! St Oswald’s, though, saw my blog and its successes as evidence of my skill and talent around social media, publicity, and producing decent content!
After a very positive and cheerful interview with two staff from the Communications team, I was offered the position right there and then and immediately sent to HR to have my ID badge photo taken and to be signed up for the training days. I was so proud that I’d succeeded at the interview and so excited to get started but who could have known that a pandemic would hit and put a pause on my starting date?! But St Oswald’s didn’t forget about me(!) and I received an email a little while ago asking if I would join the Check-In and Chat team to offer support for some of the retail volunteers! I completed the online training and have been assigned 18 volunteers to make contact with every two weeks. The aim of the service is to provide a listening ear and signposting for those who need it. The ethos behind it is my absolute favourite aspect of this – St Oswald’s a very aware that volunteers are a really huge part of the organisation and that they should be show respect, thought, and kindness to equal their essential work.
I’ve worked in the voluntary retail sector before and whilst I enjoyed it, I did feel a little neglected by the paid staff and Head Office who seemed to rank volunteers as somewhat lesser than themselves. It is clear from the invention of their Check-In and Chat service that St Oswald’s have the exact opposite mindset, and this makes me so much prouder to work for them.
In fact, here are some of the many reasons why volunteering is so beneficial and rewarding:
Volunteering can help you to do something productive with any free time you may have and prevent you from feeling ‘lazy!’ If you’re unemployed – for whatever reason – it can be very easy to feel as though you’re useless and aren’t contributing to society in anyway; and volunteering can help with that worry and reassure you that you have a purpose and you are needed.
I’m often asked in hospital for my occupation and to say I’m unemployed feels really demeaning because it has such negative connotations and assumptions, so I’m really proud to be able to say that I have a voluntary job. I think that it shows that I’m trying to better my life and that I’m thinking of my future and what I want it to look like.
Opportunity to help others
Most volunteer roles allow the chance to support or help others in some way – whether it be emotionally through talking to someone who is struggling, or practically like helping someone to do their food shopping – and doing this can be really important and therapeutic for you. I definitely believe in karma and think that if you spend time helping others, then one day – if you need help – someone will be there for you.
It’s also nice to think that if the roles were reversed and you were in the other person’s shoes, you would want the help and support that you’re offering them. It can be rewarding to know that because of you, there’s someone out there who is feeling a whole lot less lonely and isolated.
A factor that will enable you to help others is where you can identify with them and what they are going through in some way. It means that you’re better placed at knowing what they might need from the support being offered.
This is especially useful if you struggle with your own mental health and need something else to focus and concentrate on for a little while. It’s important to find a balance though to ensure it is distraction and not denial! That you’re just trying to take a break from your struggle and not avoiding getting help with it.
There are so many ways you can distract yourself when you’re struggling (things like arts and crafts, reading, movies etc) but it feels so much more rewarding when your distraction activity actually helps others too.
Seeing the impact your contribution can have
It can be really rewarding to see just what your hard work and time can do for the organisation and those involved in it. For me, a lot of my voluntary work has been in social media and publicity so the impact I have is seeing hashtags I’ve created being used (and on one occasion, even trending!) and having my content initiate conversations in areas – like mental health and sexual abuse – that need more awareness.
A lot of people go into volunteering because – for whatever reason – they are unable to fulfil fulltime, paid employment, and working in a voluntary role allows the person to still get experience of working in an industry they might be striving for a career in. Personally, until I realized that I wanted to work in social media, publicity, and comms, my voluntary work was mainly in retail and whilst I enjoyed it, I soon realized that it wasn’t really helpful for my long-term goal of the industry I ultimately wanted to work in.
Wondering how you could get a voluntary job with a charity/organisation? Here’s my three top tips to nailing your application and interview:
1. Be friendly
Probably one of the most essential qualities in doing any voluntary job – whether it involves interacting with the general public or not – is to be confident and comfortable around others. It is especially important if you’re working in retail or fundraising because it helps the public to feel more open to speaking with you. This could mean a sale, a donation, or even just a person giving up their time to learn more about the organisation and your role.
2. Be passionate
It really helps that you are enthusiastic and passionate about the organisation you’re interviewing with and the work that they do. I’ve always said that if someone were to ask me to do a presentation solely about myself then I’d struggle to find the courage, but if it were to be about blogging, social media, or mental health in general then they are things that I’m really passionate about so you’d have a hard time shutting me up!
It feels so good to be proud of the organization you work for and I think it’s important that if you’re putting your name and reputation to something, then it should be something you care about. I had a family member go into Hospice care when I was younger and have more recently had someone I care about be diagnosed with Cancer and told that it’s terminal so I’m really passionate about promoting the fantastic support St Oswald’s provide and hopefully this passion will shine through in my work for them.
3. Be prepared and do your research
This is definitely something I’m guilty of not always doing, but I have learnt that it can go a long way in an interview or covering letter. Illustrating an awareness of what the organisation stands for, how and why they were founded, and their achievements, can be really powerful in showing your understanding and commitment to their cause.
Learning more about the organisation you’ve applied to volunteer with will also solidify your dedication to working with them because it ensures that you really do support their history and the work they do.
I’m aware that a huge variety of people read I’m NOT Disordered so I thought I’d include a little something for any organisation staff who might be wondering how to thank their volunteers for all that they do:
The Traditional Thank You gifts (Flowers, Chocolates, and cards!)
The smallest and simplest of gifts can go a long way for someone! Whilst lockdown is in place, it may be a little bit more challenging for you to ‘give’ these types of gifts but there are still ways! There’s a lot of websites out there that are perfect for gifts who are still offering a delivery service; the best I’ve found are: Moon Pig, Not On The Highstreet, Prezzy Box, and Zazzle.
For a more personal touch, and to show that you’ve put a lot of thought into the thank you gift, a lot of people are creating Wishlists on Amazon and buying one another an item from the person’s List… Not hinting or anything but as an example(!) here’s my List: https://www.amazon.co.uk/hz/wishlist/ls/319WF2MNMH8OH?ref_=wl_share
E’mail/social media post
For bigger organizations who have a lot of Volunteers, this thank you method is probably more practical! A meaningful e’mail or a special little post on social media can be the perfect way to publicly thank Volunteers, and it can go a long way to some people.
I hope that this post has inspired you to either begin volunteering, continue with your voluntary role, or support, appreciate, and thank your volunteers more!
For more info on St Oswald’s Hospice: