Written by Elizabeth Sheldon
It will be International Volunteers day on the 5th December and this event made me think about the value of volunteers to the recipients of that care but more importantly I was thinking about how giving back to others has wholly enhanced my life and I would like to share that with you.
Let us start with a definition of volunteering- freely to do something, work for an organisation without being paid. Many of you reading this will already be volunteering in some form or another and that is great, however in my conversations with colleagues and friends I too often hear ‘ I would love to do something but I do not have time!’ I understand this, we are all busy people especially under conditions we have not experienced before during this pandemic. I will show how volunteering can enhance your skill set, well-being and employability and so be worthy of finding the time to give back.
All the volunteering I have done has benefited me as well as the organisation and their causes. But not all of these benefits were apparent to me at the time and I recognised skills I had gained as time progressed. I had a privileged life, a loving family, enough to eat, treats at home and an education so at an early age I developed a strong sense of giving back. At the age of nine I started a ‘Good Deed Club’ with my brother and some school friends. We did odd jobs and ‘bring and buy’ sales to raise money for Dr Barnardo’s. What did I learn? Well I got my picture in the local paper, I learned about others less fortunate than me and I learned how good it feels to do something for others.
Age 13, I joined the Red Cross, here I learned about teamwork and how to bandage lots of limbs! I went on to become a nurse so this was very useful.
After I had children I realised the only way I could influence their education was by becoming a school governor and I did this for 19 years, becoming vice chair at quite a young age. I learned how to manage meetings and people with diverse backgrounds. It also taught me how to support the staff in the school and develop a relationship with the boss, the Head Teacher, a most useful skill as my career progressed.
In my early 30s I joined Ladies’ Circle, the female version of the Round Table. The first meeting I attended I thought I was in the wrong group as everyone was in their 40s which seemed so much older than me, but I quickly learned not to be so judgemental and to be more objective. I stayed in Ladies’ Circle until I was 45 rising through the ranks to hold several National Committee roles. I learned 3 really big things, how to handle confrontation, manage meetings and the value of planning. Managing volunteers is quite different from managing work colleagues and is really good training for remaining impartial and objective in negotiations.
One of the biggest things I did was to put on a lunch for 250 women, our speaker was Terry Waite, the hostage negotiator who was himself taken hostage in Lebanon in 1987. He was a great speaker and is a wonderful man. I learned how to manage events, bring out the best in a team and how to recognise peoples’ strength and put those strengths to good use. Invaluable experience.
We moved from Surrey to Milton Keynes in 2002 where we knew no-one. We decided to join Rotary International in order to continue our philanthropic giving and make some friends. Rotary is a fantastic global organisation. It is they that have driven the eradication of polio, latterly with the help of the Bill Gates Foundation. I learned so much as a member of Rotary. They have a comprehensive training programme for those taking leadership positions. I rose through the ranks and was a recipient of many of the training programmes; handling the media, leadership training, chairing meetings, delegation, presentations, social media, marketing, recruitment. All those topics are useful to a person in business and this training is FREE.
In joining these organisations you are also widening your network of people with whom you may not have encountered in your working life. We all know that in business it is all about who you know, so a wide network is always of value. The more you do the more people come to you and ask you to help. You are seen as a doer, someone who can be trusted to get a job done and this also happened in my working life, I began to volunteer for work related groups, too many to mention here but the result is that I have invited to participate in and lead some national organisations which has totally benefitted my business as it has put me in touch with other organisations neither my business nor I would have encountered otherwise. My network is rich and valuable and has been developed because I volunteered.
Should an opportunity come your way, put yourself forward, get yourself known, give of yourself and of your time. Research led by Jump shows that ‘volunteering is associated with higher levels of wellbeing, better general health and fewer mental health problems’. During the pandemic this might be one way to combat mental health issues caused by redundancy or loneliness. As you spread yourself about more people will know about you, thus giving you opportunities you may not have previously had and at the same time you are improving society and those less fortunate. Employers love those that give of themselves. Look around, ask your friends and family what they do, find something to start you off. If you need some help, may I recommend Age UK telephone befriending service, loneliness is the scourge of modern living especially at the moment. Do something for someone else and feel good.