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One Year a Volunteer - 5 Tips on How to be a Good Volunteer

Now is a time of reflection. It’s been a year since the country went into lockdown, which means it’s been a year since my freelance marketing work dried up and a year since I decided to start this blog and dedicate myself to volunteering 'for a while'. It seemed futile to look for a job during a global crisis, and volunteering appeared to be a way forward for me - doing something that makes me happy, adds value, keeps me occupied and teaches me something new.

I’ve loved my sabbatical, and while I’m actively looking for work, I’m only applying for jobs that I feel that I will absolutely love because I don’t want to mess-up all the hard work I’ve put in over the last year. Despite being out of work, keeping busy by volunteering has had great impact on my mental health, despite how difficult this year has been in other senses.

It's been a somewhat fallow year for many in that being isolated because they've had to work from home and not being able to see family and friends has meant that you've not been able to place yourself in a situation where normally you'd be able to find a job or be happy. Volunteering has saved me from isolation. It's allowed me to put myself out there to see people (albeit mostly virtually).

A lot has been learned in the last year. I certainly feel like I've been able to adapt to the changes brought about by the pandemic, which gives me hope because if I can get through this and come out with more friends than I had before, I'm winning! As volunteering has had such a huge impact on my life over the last year, I thought I'd share my top five tips on how to be a good volunteer...

1. Don't over-commit

This might sound rich coming from someone who is 80% of the way through a 100 Day Volunteering Challenge, but despite the fact I am working with a lot of different organisations, I haven't actually over-stretched myself. This because I'm able to dedicate my time to volunteering while I'm not working full-time (although there was a period about 10 days ago where it got a bit squeaky). Most organisations who need volunteers to help them will completely understand if you turn around and say 'hey, I need to take a break'. You're donating your valuable time and skills, which can be priceless to some non-profit organisations.

Action: Set aside some regular time each week where you know you can volunteer. If you can take up an extra shift here or there, then that's a bonus. It will help the organisation to know exactly when you are available, so they don't end up hassling you when you are unable to give your time, and you don't end up over-committing.

2. Make sure you know what you're committing to

This isn't always easy when you're not setting the remit, but if you're going to be good at volunteering it's important that you actually know what you're doing and what is expected of you. It's a lot easier when you're volunteering for something physically, like collecting money for an appeal, or stewarding an event, because there are usually guidelines arount what is expected and there is also a leader. It's less-clear sometimes when you are volunteering remotely, and you don't always know how long something will take. One recent example of mine is that I didn't realise how time-consuming it would be to organise an online auction, and then ensure fulfillment of the lots (we had circa 50 lots, and it was down to me to find out where the lots were located before contacting the winners). Luckily for me, I had the time to do it, but it would have been difficult if I was working full time.

Action: If you're unsure what you're meant to be doing, ask the organisation. E.g. if you're a part of a volunteer fundraising team, do they want you to research funders or write applications? If you're volunteering at a food bank, what is required of you when you get there? Also, if you feel like you've bitten off more than you can chew, you can ask for help!

3. If you do commit to something, honour your commitment

No one likes to be messed about, so if you say you're going to be somewhere or do a job, turn up on time and ready to do the job - and don't over-promise and under-deliver. This goes back to knowing what you're actually committing to, and having a clear idea of what your remit is. This is mostly down to the organisation, especially if they are actively recruiting volunteers, because if they've asked for you and you've shown up, they should be able to tell you clearly what is expected of you. Going back to my online auction example, I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to delivering what I say I'm going to deliver, and no matter what, I was going to make sure I completed that task!

Action: Life happens, and sometimes you're not always able to honour your commitment, but be transparent if you're unable to complete a project or fully commit to something. You're donating your precious time for free as a volunteer, and that is appreciated by the organisations who are benefitting, but they want to know that you're going to show up when you say you are.

4. If it stops being enjoyable, stop doing it

People are motivated to volunteer for all sorts of reasons. Some people volunteer to make friends and be social, some people are passionate about a certain cause and some people just want to get out of the house. As with all things though, you can sometimes become disengaged, or a volunteer role might not fit into your lifestyle as it once did. If this happens, tell the organisation that you need to stop or take a break. If you communicate well with the organisation, they will appreciate it far more than if you become grumpy on the job, or just stop turning up - no one likes to be ghosted.

Action: If something stops being fun, stop doing it or take a break - and communicate your intentions to the organisation!

5. Don’t make it all about you

Volunteering can be very personal, as you might be volunteering for a cause which directly affects your life, or doing but it's important to be slightly objective about the role you are fulfilling because you are not bigger or more important than the cause to which you are committing. While one of the wonderful side effects of being a volunteer is you tend to feel good when you're doing it, you are there primarily to help others, not to make yourself look or feel good.

Action: Remember why you're volunteering and who you're doing it for.

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