The truth is, there are hundreds of possible reasons why people would work for free, often those who volunteer have a number of reasons. Each volunteer gets something positive out of the experience, and for this reason working for free is never technically 'free', its just that the rewards are not monetary. Volunteering is not for everybody of course, some people just do not have the time or motivation, and that is fair enough. There is no right or wrong reason for wanting to become a volunteer, however I will take a look at some of the many common benefits and motives behind volunteering. a look at some of the many common benefits and motives behind volunteering. It should be noted immediately that volunteers do not just work in the not-for-profit sector, but often also work in commercial environments alongside fully salaried colleagues in order to gain skills or experience.
Why Do People Volunteer?
A look at the reasons why people volunteer, people get just as much out of volunteering as the people that they help!
Believing In A Cause
Often a volunteer will just believe passionately in a particular cause and wish to play a part in helping to meet the objectives of that cause, in which case they take a great deal of pleasure in knowing that they have played a small part in success stories. Sometimes this passion is as a result of a common empathy for the plight of a specific group, and sometimes it is as a result of a personal experience. Many volunteers also work for a particular project or charity after having benefited from their services themselves. A basic example would be somebody suffering from a specific illness, say cancer, who was given a lot of support whilst recovering. After their return to full health, they may decide that they wish to help others in precisely the same situation. Any volunteer, in any position or with any organisation, should have at least a little belief in the cause. This is likely to be much more important and applicable in charity work however, rather than the commercial sector, any volunteer has a purpose and as such a responsibility which they must be prepared to commit to.
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A Gap Year / Career Break
Volunteering can also be a great way to see a part of the world at a low cost. There are many organisations who will arrange your entire year including flights and accommodation at a set cost, although you will generally also need to take spending money. Normally there will opportunity for you to travel independently for periods, maybe alongside your new friends. Volunteering is effectively a working holiday, although at your expense, and it can be very rewarding. Certain organisations will even pay all of your costs with the exception of general pocket money, although these places can be competitive and hard to find. You will enter into an agreement to volunteer for a fixed period of time, generally 3, 6, 9 or 12 months, it is important that you are confident that you will enjoy the experience before you commit as there will always be a great deal of responsibility.
Some people volunteer purely to gain the skills required to pursue a specific type of paid employment in the future, particularly in difficult economic times such as now. More often than not this involves actually working for a company in a commercial environment, doing work for free which your colleagues get paid for. Prospective employers will admire your determination to get ahead, you will probably gain a valuable industry relevant reference, and you may even be offered employment within the business that you volunteer for. In such an arrangement there can generally only be winners. As an example, you may have your heart set on a career in journalism, but opportunities for junior positions are - and they actually are - very difficult to come by. You could instead offer to work for free for your local paper for one day per week, perhaps alongside studies, and within a few months you have put yourself above the competition. I have actually written a few articles for a magazine, without payment, purely for portfolio benefits. Alternatively you may wish to develop other more general skills, such as your communication or leadership abilities, in which case any sort of volunteering would likely give you at least a small confidence boost.
Curriculum Vitae / Resume
It may seem like I am stating the obvious now, but volunteering for any of the three above reasons is guaranteed to do enhance your career prospects, irrespective of whether or not that was your direct intention. It shows a prospective employer that you are energetic, driven, determined, and there will always be plenty for you to talk about in an interview. In such competitive times it is imperative that there is at least something to set you apart from the rest, and volunteering is always a great way to help an employer gain a genuinely interesting insight into your passions and personality.
In addition, your confidence and skills are likely to develop, something which will without a doubt make your much more attractive to a prospective employer. It is always good to consider the benefits to your CV prior to volunteering, even if your only ambition is to continue to make impressions in the voluntary sector, and you should perhaps reflect at regular intervals on exactly what it is that you have taken from an experience as a volunteer.
This may seem like a slightly darker reason to volunteer, however a perfectly valid one. Many people simply like to be around others, particularly after a drastic change in personal circumstances. As an example, following the death of a lifetime partner, or maybe if you have moved to a new area. You are not going to meet new people by sitting indoors playing computer games each night, and even those who work can seldom interact with others in a non-formal way. A good example would be somebody who is able to work entirely from home, such as a freelancer writer. Whilst they undoubtedly have friends who they meet socially, the bulk of their week is lonely and virtual interaction is often insufficient. If on the other hand the freelancer writer volunteered at a charity tea room or something each Saturday, they would likely feel less lonely and much happier (and probably more productive) for the rest of the week.
Some people volunteer with an organisation who offers training and a recognised qualification in the process, meaning that not only do you get all of the possible benefits discussed above - but also a qualification or two for your endeavours. Effectively you are undertaking 'on the job' training, rather than simply attending a college course. Many other courses, which are undertaken through colleges, require a certain amount of practical experience in order to pass the course. An example would be football coaching badges/licenses, some of which would require that you undertake a certain number of hours of coaching. In this circumstance you may decide to offer your services to the coach of your local youth or amateur football team for say a couple of hours per week for a set number of weeks.
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