In the news — volunteering

As the bell tolled at the end of the Olympic Games, Lord Coe had many groups to thank; though one truly deserved his appreciation, and the crowd’s applause. The volunteers. Those 70,000 men and women (some as young as sixteen) who gave their time, were credited as the “heroes of [the] games”.

Maybe you’re wondering what any of this has to do with independent work?

For many people volunteerism is seen as nothing more than a caring aside to paid work. Just a way to pass time, and give yourself a warm fuzzy feeling for helping your fellow man. To others volunteers are an easily led and gullible source of slave labour. A chance to utilise skills and manpower for nothing other than a few kind words and a pat on the shoulder.

At one point or another I’ve held both mindsets. Whilst working with volunteers (as paid staff), I’d peer over my computer and be completely baffled as to why anyone, would offer their services without payment. I’ve also been the metaphorical slave, toiling away with: no recognition, support or recompense. In all fairness it was probably deserved for judging previously… ah karma.

Volunteerism can work, the Olympics are a testament to that. Volunteers have, over the last two weeks proved that ideas, pride, and drive, can make even long days and hard work possible to smile through. Until yesterday, articulating why volunteering or working with volunteers works (or doesn’t) was a struggle, though now I think it has become clear — it’s all about the concept behind the work.

The best way to explain is through experience. At one point during my university days, I was studying full time, as well as volunteering full time, as lead features/news writer (90 hours a week combined). You might ask why! It was all about the idea of what I was working on, and who I was working with. We were independent writers playing the role of David vs Goliath(s), and that spurred us all on no end. What we didn’t realise at the time was our Editor in Chief’s goal; to help us develop in every way possible (seeing as he couldn’t pay). The contacts, experience, portfolio, and skills which I learnt in that time – through osmosis – have directly paved the path to writing this. At the time the dots didn’t exist, never mind the connecting lines, but the experience and expertise I gained has helped no-end.

It was so simple. The team and our editor did three simple things, and it made working almost liberating, even with the challenges of half our team working from 4000 miles away in ‘The States’.

    1. Trading skills, which sounds like a fundamental element of working with anyone, right? I’ve always found it maddening, that in order for a department to be taught something new, they have to go on a ‘training day’, when more than likely someone with that knowledge is working just a few rooms over. That’s the beauty of volunteering, there’s no need to compete with other staff. You’re not one worker fighting to the top of a pile, you’re a human being teaching and learning. In many ways it was like going back to school. Sure, the other children will laugh heartily at your lack of know-how, but afterwards they’ll pick you up and teach you a brilliant new way to perform your task.
    2. Lack of inspiration and motivation, is something which I’ve seen the best and brightest in many industries suffer with. In all the time I’ve worked with volunteers (who truly embrace the volunteer spirit) I haven’t felt it once, because if you’re having a crappy day, where nothing is working and you can’t think; there will more than likely be someone who is feeling like a God to give you a hand and make you smile just a little bit. It’s less about working as a team, and more about thinking amongst a community to get things done and bring ideas to fruition.
    3. Fostering ideas and encouraging everyone to ‘push the envelope’ might just be what has kept volunteering fresh for weeks, months or even years (at least for me). Whilst it might be impossible to pay volunteers, the idea of getting funding in order to; cover an event,  investigate a new technology or create a new routine, can allow volunteers to earn a little money, whilst explore new avenues (at a fraction of the cost of external staff).

At this point I hear you thinking: sure volunteering is wonderful, but how do I survive? I have bills, and I’ve become quite attached to the roof over my head. Or you may find yourself on the other side of the coin, you don’t have the finances to pay, but you feel that volunteering either feels like slave labour or you can’t think why anyone would offer their time to work with you. Depending on what stage you, or your volunteers are at in life, the volunteer movement can be useful for both parties.

  • For people with little experience or who lack contacts, volunteering can be a great staging ground for a new career.
  • For someone who is experienced but stuck in a role which allows no experimentation, then volunteering can provide a much needed use of creative juices or a way to try a new role.
  • Volunteering can also be a great way to give something back or just meet new people. If someone no longer wishes to work a full time job, or wants to try helping in down time, volunteering can be a great opportunity to do just that.

Volunteering can be bring unrivalled positivity, (there’s a reason that volunteering is up 40% in Cornwall ), though it is important that both sides find balance, it is  not as if people are just going to give their time for nothing!

Who is Yiannis Pelekanos

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