The Value of Volunteering

Volunteer

Volunteering builds team spirit, interpersonal and communication skills, leadership skills, humility and a spirit of caring … all that we need in employees and citizens of the nation – Nike De’Souza

Introduction

Sometimes good passes by unnoticed. Sorry, a lot of times good passes by unnoticed. Volunteering is one of those good that could pass us by unnoticed, unutilized and un-harnessed. Volunteering bears many advantages for teenagers, the youth, fresh graduates, employees, recruiters, employers, human resource leaders, organisations, and society in general.

Volunteering, as helpfully defined by Volunteering England is “any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives. Central to this definition is the fact that volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual.

This can include formal activity undertaken through public, private and voluntary organisations as well as informal community participation”. It also includes spending time, unpaid, working for an organisation in a bid to acquire workplace knowledge and skills, with the hope that doing this would increase the chances of getting a desired job.

Wikipedia views it this way: “Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote goodness or improve human quality of life. In return, this activity can produce a feeling of self-worth and respect. There is no financial gain involved for the individual. Volunteering is also renowned for skill development, socialization, and fun.

Volunteering may have positive benefits for the volunteer as well as for the person or community served. It is also intended to make contacts for possible employment. It is helping, assisting, or serving another person or persons without pay. Many volunteers are specifically trained in the areas they work, such as medicine, education, or emergency rescue. Others serve on an as-needed basis, such as in response to a natural disaster”.

Types and Shades of Volunteering

Hence, two broad classes exist. One class is entirely altruistic and seeks only to improve the recipient group without a desire for any personal returns to the volunteer. The other, yes is altruistic with benefits. All said volunteering is about giving of your time, knowledge and skills. And yes it comes in various shades and hues. I’ll attempt to provide a crash awareness programme here on the various kinds that exist.

There is the cause-led individual or group volunteering. In this instance, an individual or group could undertake to help a community or to support a cause on a one off or an ongoing basis. Their efforts are usually aimed at helping the society solve/reduce one ill or anothere.g. environmental, health, educational or even socio-economic imbalances such as disasters.

It could also be towards supporting a vulnerable group e.g. women, the physically impaired, orphans, children, etc. This type of volunteering can be said to be the foundation for NGOs and social enterprises. There is the art of volunteering as a job search tool. As there are more job seekers than there are jobs, the more ingenuous ones resort to creative-entrepreneurial approaches to their job search such as volunteering. Here the job hopeful elects to do unpaid work in exchange for learning and skill building and/or absorption into a career track.

More Types and Shades of Volunteering

Close to the previous one is volunteering as an “apprenticeship” scheme. Here the individual seeks to volunteer to work or serve someone in a bid to gain access to the person’s knowledge, skills and networks. While the initial one could be short term this is usually on a longer term basis. There is also employer supported or championed volunteerism.

Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV) is when employers offer their employees paid time off to benefit their local community. It is a great way of fulfilling a corporate social responsibility policy and building a reputation as a responsible business (ref. tameside4good.org). “ESV provides employees with the opportunity to volunteer with support from their employer.

This may be in the form of time off for individual volunteering, or in a programme developed by the employer, such as a team challenge event or ongoing arrangement towards a cause”(Volunteer England). This scheme, unfortunately isn’t popular around developing countries yet. We also have School Supported Volunteering which are more of service-learning programs.

This could either be at the secondary or tertiary level. It helps students to learn through early involvement and service with the community. Such students gain credits from these activities as it is seen as part of the overall development of the student, what some call developing the ‘whole person’.

Traditional schooling develops the soul, volunteerism develops the heart. At some other instances we find emergency focused volunteerism. This is usually in times of natural disasters and epidemics and is more common in nations with a history of natural disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, tsunamis, etc.

Benefits to the Young and their Parents

There are a lot of benefits to different segments of society when young people participate in volunteering activities of one type or the other. There is agreement that humankind has one of the worst strains of selfishness. Early in life these youngsters begin to learn to love, to help and to share. They learn about team membership and leadership.

Opportunities to be more accountable to self, others and society also shows up here. They get a training ground to utilize some things taught in school and also a platform for discovering themselves. A woman who said she always wanted to be a medical doctor changed her mind when she saw how repulsed she was at the sight of blood. Her medical ambition dissipated that day.

Benefits to Your Job Search

Utilizing volunteering as a job search device also bears a number of advantages. May I quickly say that the fact that you want to volunteer is no longer a big deal. So you mustn’t go with the attitude that you are doing them a favour. Also there are many big organisations who don’t even have spaces for volunteering.

What am I trying to say?

Getting a volunteering spot is a job all by itself. Enough said. There are benefits when you can access the opportunity. Like I said at the beginning, you are afforded the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge. You gain access into that industry.

Access also into specific career track. It aids your transition into the workplace – for fresh graduates. For career changers, this represents a safe zone where you can confirm your desire to get into a new track. It also helps you become the first line should a vacancy materialize where you are.

Benefits to Recruiters and Hiring Managers

Business leaders, recruiters and human resource practitioners have a lot to gain from job-search volunteerism. Let me ask, are these some of the qualities you are looking for when you recruit: initiative, leadership, ICT skills, can-do attitude, going the extra mile, communication skills, planning and organising, etc?

Some would argue that a person who is seeking to volunteer or who has volunteered before would have a lot of these qualities in higher quantity than the regular Joe. Hiring such a person would mean you are hiring an individual who chose to volunteer instead of staying at home.

You would be hiring a person with some work experience (compared to an entirely fresh graduate with nil experience). You would likely be hiring an individual who has made a mental transition from college to the workplace. I remember wondering, on my first job, why there was so much fuss about coming late – I mean 5 minutes late.

Benefits to Employees and their Organizations

Employer Supported Volunteerism (ESV) is usually part of companies’ sustainability efforts and their social responsibility activities. So what are the benefits to the organisation?

1) The company image, reputation and networks are enhanced with customers, employees and the local community;

2) Development of employees’ knowledge, skills and character;

3) Improvement of employee morale, motivation and team work;

4) High calibre employees are attracted and retained;

5) Valuable insight into the community in which the company operates (ref. tameside4good.org).

Employees also get an opportunity to contribute to society. Being that we spend most of our time in and around work/office an ESV gives employees a chance to be about something much more than just work. It brings the semblance of work life balance. It provides an additional platform to deploy your skills.

Benefits to Society at Large

Imagine a society with volunteers from secondary school (high school), tertiary level schools and employees strewn all over the place. We would find a diffusion of skill, knowledge and ideas. A cross-pollination of mental models across industries, sectors, career groups, age groups, educational levels, etc. Vulnerable groups would readily find help and care.

I recall one of the times I paid a visit to Hearts of Gold Orphanage at their old site before Governor Fashola was magnanimous enough to ‘volunteer’ a new building. I met a fairly young man there whom I initially thought was one of the staff because he seemed to know his way around these physically challenged children. On asking him a question he told me he was a volunteer and had been so for the last three years!

Imagine what would happen on our roads if those well trained bankers and telecoms staff volunteered to train and mentor the children in the Police barracks! Raising literacy and academic excellence may get a boost from all the bright minds in the private and public sector. The physically challenged and orphans would find more mentorship and sponsorship from individuals and groups.

Next steps

Enlightened ideas such as the idea of volunteering would remain mere ideas except we take urgent and responsible steps. For example:

  • To parents and guardians – allow your child or ward to be part of a volunteer scheme. Alternatively, since many of us are also part of PTAs we should encourage our schools to start a scheme.
  • For school administrators – I’m sure you have heard of school support volunteerism before but passionate action is lacking. The time to start obviously is now. Luckily there are many schemes in play at various schools in many parts of the world that we can leverage on through the internet.
  • For human resource and branding departments – aren’t you losing the opportunity to engage your staff in a more creative way? Aren’t you losing an inexpensive route to elevating the emotional engagement with your firm’s brand?
  • For job seekers and career changers – if you have done several things and you are still in search of a job, then deploy creatively and persistently the volunteer method. But take not that getting a volunteer job is also a job on its own.
  • For recruiters and hiring manager and SME owners –recruiters, they should begin to look at people that volunteer and give of their time and skills to others… especially since they are using their time well when they have no jobs. I think you should deliberately look out for people who used every platform they got to deploy their skills, time and talent.

    Some people just glide through NYSC, doing virtually nothing. Not those ones. Some others have used holiday time while in school to work. There were the people who added value to their communities while in school and on NYSC. Some even entered into some form of apprenticeship in a bid to gain access into a new field. Seek them out and hire them.

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