Why I volunteer
It’s Volunteer’s Week and across the UK charities and community groups will mark the contribution made by the millions of people who give time to support their work.
Around two years ago, when I was living in London, I was introduced to a community group that is working to get the Crystal Palace subway (formerly the main route into the Crystal Palace for rail passengers using the High Level station) reopened to the public. I have an interest in unusual architecture and was newly self-employed so could be flexible with my time – they needed help to promote their work and gain support for their campaign.
Attending my first ‘Friends’ meeting was a bit daunting as I didn’t know a soul, but they were extremely welcoming and, being volunteers themselves, understood my nervousness. Since then we have built-up our mailing list and launched a popular e-newsletter, have a really encouraging following on social media and held two open days which attracted people from across the south of England (and considerably further afield too). Momentum for the campaign is building and we have attracted funding to enable a new gate to be installed.
As I’m sure all volunteers do from time to time, I have wondered whether I really do have time to continue giving my time. I have now moved away from London, have a busy day job which involves plenty of travelling and am renovating a wreck of a house I bought last year. There are three things that keep me committed to volunteering: the cause (the subway is stunning and should be open for everyone to see); the people I volunteer with (who are a fun, diverse and hugely passionate bunch of people); what I personally gain from being involved.
This final point is really important for anyone who manages volunteers. Volunteering is a two-way street and you must understand what motivates individuals who offer their time. The subway campaign has enabled me to develop certain skills and has put me in touch with people who have been really helpful in terms of my day job. Other volunteers I know do it because they want to feel part of a team, are keen to do something completely different to their paid employment, and so on; there are any number of other reasons.
So this week, when you’re thanking your volunteers and highlighting WHAT they do, take time to understand WHY they do it. Knowing what motivates your volunteers will enable you to help them get the most from the experience and will undoubtedly make your partnership stronger.