Friday, 4 September 2015



You can't imagine how many people told me in the past 10 years that volunteering sucks and it's completely pointless. I consequently ignored all those 'wise' suggestions, volunteered for many different charities and organizations and guess gave me skills, experience, better job prospects and leverage when negotiating my salary and benefits. As far as I know all those people who were not happy about supporting a cause still have boring office jobs that they hate. And me? I have my own company, I consult and work part time as a shop manager and I love it!

When I first got an idea to work for a charity it was purely because I wanted to get some work experience. I studied Fashion Design and at that point I was pretty sure that I will end up somewhere in the retail sector. One Saturday I went up my High Street and asked out in several charity shops if they need a window dresser/visual merchandiser (I really set my mind on this role). Some of the managers were fussy: maybe come back later/we have too many people now/we don't need anyone/you don't look good enough to work here (which only told me that I don't want to work there – who would like to work with mean, stuck up people anyway?), but one was absolutely lovely. She told me everything about the shop, how the charity works, what they do here and what kind of people they have in the shop. I stayed with them for almost 2 years and loved every moment and the role I had with them opened doors to almost every job I had so far.

How does it all work then? How can you make volunteering work for you?


Not every charity is the same and not every charity is great. There are some shady ones, but most of them are legit, solid and actually contributing to the cause. Your role is to find an organization that you like and that helps the cause you would like to support. It's important to have both of those – if you like only how the organization looks in the media, but you couldn't care less about what they actually do it will not work out that well. Give it all a thought, because the opinion about the charity you support will stick with you (if you want it or not). Also, take a look at the people at the site you are considering volunteering for. Would you like to work with them? Are they happy? Do they seem nice? It is your choice, so choose to work with someone that company you will enjoy (unhappy, stressed volunteers are a clear sign that you don't want anything to do with a place like that).


Do you have an idea on what kind of work would you like to do in the future? Try and align your volunteer role with that. You would like to work in retail? Go and ask for a cashier opportunity. Are you considering social media career? Try and get a role that will maintain charity's Facebook and Instagram account. In most cases you just need a clear idea on what kind of experience would you like to get, what role can give you that and then you can ask if it's available. If not – try another charity, someone will have an opening for you. Also, some charities offer training for their volunteers, so find out if that's available (having certain skills and a certificate or references that confirm those is great, always, no matter how much work experience do you have).


People end up volunteering because of many reasons – one of the most popular ones at the moment is to get away from corporate life. Switch off your 'volunteering is for old people' thoughts, because most of the volunteers that you meet will be highly experienced professionals that choose to give their time for free, because they are tired with stressful business life. Ask around, get to know them and figure out if there is anything that they can teach you. If you are nice, they should be happy to help. Especially if you know what interests you and if you have specific questions that need answering.

...and how will that help your career exactly?

You will get experience that is unusual. Being a volunteer you will have an opportunity to try many different things and some of them may be normally way beyond your reach. When I volunteered with one of the education focused charities, I somehow ended up managing a team of 10 and organizing company wide events. I was around 25 then and having this on my CV boosted my career prospects sky high.

You will meet people. Everyone that volunteers with you has a potential to teach you something or knows someone who can. Make friends, go out there and meet people and you will be surprised how many opportunities you will find along the way.

You will get work experience that can be verified. Treat your volunteering as a part time job. Be there on time, call your manager if you fell sick – and when the time comes that you need references for your next job you will have the best ones possible.

You will have an option to work with the charity. Sometimes you don't even think about that, but at some point you will absolutely have an option to apply for a paid position with the organization that you volunteer with. They always give preference to people that worked with them before, so this may just turn out to be your future career.

It shows that you care about something. More and more companies are interested in your values and things that you believe in. If you choose your volunteer role carefully it may give you a better chance at getting your dream job – just make sure that values of both organizations are roughly the same. 

Have fun!