We often hear a lot about volunteering, especially how it can be extremely rewarding to give your time and skills for free to help others. Of course, this is all very true, but it is sadly also often just seen as something that those who do not work, such as the retired, do to fill their time.
In fact, volunteer work can be beneficial all round, also creating valuable work experience which can lead on to better job opportunities. I write this on a personal level as someone who has found out just that.
A couple of years ago I was in a very different job to the one I am in now. Working 9-5 in an office, not particularly interested in what I was doing for many years, I felt extremely unfulfilled and in need of a career change. As a single mother with a mortgage, I was not afforded the luxury of being able to go to university to retrain and so I thought I was pretty much stuck where I was.
I have always loved planning big private events and was desperate to get into this field, excitedly applying for several jobs. Unfortunately, I came up against the same responses every time that I applied: no chance without a degree or any ‘professional’ experience, so it felt as if there was no way forward for me. By chance one day, however, I saw an advert for volunteers to create and manage a music festival in my local town on behalf of an international charity.
I applied straight away and was offered the role a few weeks later.
I will admit that taking on such a big challenge was not easy, particularly alongside my job and family life. It was, however, the best decision I have ever made as just as the festival preparations were coming to an end, I saw an advert to apply for a job at Strode Park Foundation, a charity based in my neighbouring town.
The job description sparked my interest as it was for a Fundraiser, meaning that event planning would be a large part of the role. I had also found in my volunteering role that the fundraising side had overtaken events as my favourite aspect and, with Strode Park being a place that I had attended events on a regular basis, it almost seemed too good an opportunity to be true.
Armed with my new ‘professional’ experience, albeit gained as a volunteer, I had the confidence to go for it and, as you can see, got the job.
These days I love my job. It is such a varied role with some days seeing me booking bands, applying for grants and even dressing up in character costumes at events!
While in this role, I have also discovered a love of digital marketing (something that I would have never have thought I’d like in the past) and love being the person to handle the social media and website.
I am now on a different career path, and my CV is full of experience in so many different areas to where I was such a short time ago.
So as a final note I encourage you to think about volunteering as more than just that heartwarming, time filling experience. For me certainly, it has been life changing, and in working for a charity, I hope that I can even help to improve a few more lives too.
(Written by Christina Jones, Fundraiser at Strode Park Foundation)