Begin with a quick win
The moment you receive a message that says “Congratulations you are now ready to start volunteering with us” is an exciting day. Adults and some older teenagers choose to volunteer for many different reasons. You may have commercial or public sector industry experience already, or you may be looking to add some practical work practice, to compliment your academic CV.
Initially it takes time to research and read about your chosen charity. It is important to like spending time with people of all ages and cultures. Having a caring and positive attitude is key in order to be happy working in children’s services. Always using discretion and the ability to keep charity related work confidential is critical to the role of being a volunteer working in the community.
At the beginning of the process, there is a lot of detailed information about your experience in life so far to give to your selected organisation that supports parents, babies and young people. There may be an informal or more formal interview in person. This is all a worthwhile process that can involve a fair amount of administrative work. Successfully completing the application process for formally becoming a volunteer for a children’s charity is great feeling.
Whatever the path that has led you to apply to become a children’s charity volunteer, a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) with an enhanced check will need to be applied for, by filling out an online form. A few weeks later a colourful certificate, that is specific to childcare workers, will reach you through the post. It is a good day when this essential document is received as it is a legal requirement that you have this paperwork in order, to be able work with children in the UK. (1
Ready for a unique journey that can help children catch up
Whatever your previous training and current skill set it is exciting to embark on a journey to becoming part of a team delivering health and social services in your community. You will be working on delivering training and support that benefits many children and families.
There is a real need for the children’s charities in British society currently, to support National Health Service social and healthcare services. Rebecca Thomas of the Independent writes about how across the UK “vulnerable children are ‘damaged’ by government spending cuts.”
Thomas cites the House of Lords Public Service Committee report that states that “a lack of funding and cuts to early years and youth support services by local councils is leaving children at risk.” (2)
The pandemic has exacerbated the need for many services across the country. For example, many of the children in our society struggle with social skills, language development, catching up with basic education and mental health issues. This is following the lockdowns experienced in the UK and also globally as part of government strategies to decrease the spread of coronavirus.
The lockdowns in the UK in 2020 and 2021 have helped reduce Covid 19 infection numbers and have alleviated some pressure on NHS health services. Mandatory home working and school closures has disrupted the lives of millions of families and negatively affected children’s social skills and learning so there is now much work to be done to ensure the next generation at developing to their maximum potential.
Take first step to making a difference
Being able to make a difference in the place in which you live is rewarding. A new volunteer can start by helping an individual with simply taking time to listen with empathy. Another easy way to get started is to chat to parents and help them to know about classes, groups or organisations that can help with their family’s education, healthcare and specific challenge or challenges.
Helping a parent or a child connect with a friendly group of like-minded people is really positive. Assisting a service user to achieve a small personal positive step forward is uplifting and motivating. As you learn more there are also opportunities in the long term, for leading projects that can make a major difference to your village, town or city in the future.
Enjoy the training
Participating in training in children’s charities can cover everything from respecting diversity within the organisation, to tips on smoothly facilitating group courses on Zoom video meetings held online. Whatever the topic the training modules and coaching sessions that are provided by your manager and other colleagues can be a great way of increasing knowledge as a new volunteer.
Gaining a more in depth understanding of the subjects that are included in healthy living, childcare and parenting becomes a natural part of progressing in this interesting area. Receiving the latest information and research from respected sources can help a volunteer and their family live a healthier life with improved well-being too.
Meeting new friends
Meeting the new team that you will be working with is exciting. It might be that you are starting in a group of volunteers that are all beginning together. Alternatively, you might be the fresh new recruit joining an established team that has been working alongside each other over many years. Either way getting to know your new colleagues is a wonderful part of the process and they are sure to be helpful and put you at ease.
Developing new friendships comes easily as you experience the hard work, highs and lows of working in the health and childcare sector in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Learning from working alongside your new team and also accompanying other more experienced volunteers is a fun way of meeting new people and gaining the skills necessary to be fully competent to support your charities aims.
Practicing Professional Skills
It is likely that a new volunteer’s work will initially include practicing sharing some key information with the general public. These messages will be designed to explain and further the charities aims by engaging with parents and people in your community. These facts, figures, slogans, explanations and stories can be a playful memory game that is good for mental agility for everyone at every age.
Working alongside more senior assistants and professionals is an enjoyable way of picking up tips on how to ask the right questions and impart the right advice efficiently and appropriately. If you are feeling confident you can start by reading quotes or small speeches in a workshop or course. By increasing the amount of content that you share, you can gradually work up to co-facilitating courses and delivering compelling talks and events independently.
Leading workshops and giving presentations develop good communication skills that can be used when working in any type of organisation in the future and even at important personal events such as weddings for example.
Most people are nervous when giving presentations, coaching or teaching especially if they have not had the opportunity before and it hasn’t been part of their education. Volunteering is an ideal way to ‘start small’ and grow in experience and confidence when it comes to presenting ideas and sharing subjects with several men, women or children at once, or any combination of interested folk.
The charity that you are supporting will help guide you and support you to take bigger steps until you are used to the feeling of presenting to a small group. This is significant as then you can impart important information to help support parents, care givers as well as boys and girls. Then all you need to do is gradually increase the number of participants and practice using laptops, projectors and other visual aids.
Aim for Inspiring Others
Before you know it, you will be able to help and guide others which is another fulfilling aspect of being part of a volunteering team. Coaching others in the team could be a long-term goal of volunteering for an organisation for some people. Regularly working with a charity can become a special part of your life for a long time. As you meet people locally you can share your enthusiasm for volunteering with your chosen charity. By inspiring others to also become part of your team you can make a bigger difference in your community.
Organising activities and coordinating other practical events and sessions helps advance a volunteer’s communication and interpersonal skills. Excellent time-keeping is also an essential discipline that gets better and easier with practice.
Boosting your technology and computing skills
Technology and computing skills can be enhanced as part of presenting educational ideas on a regular basis, often at different venues. Charities use email, phone, video calls and in person meetings to keep the team in touch and up to date. Writing letters and emails and liaising with other community organisers in the local area is great practice using information technology both in your home office and mobile devices.
Major charities have websites and ‘intranet’ or internal websites and messaging systems that are used for training and communication purposes. Navigating the company websites and software online is straightforward and also good practice for working in any kind of organisation in the future.
Connecting locally and beyond
Networking and communication skills are vital to any professional in nearly every industry. It is interesting to get to know a team within a national organisation and more about how a large organisation works. It is also useful to know about other organisations within the field and companies and institutions that are related to your charity. These could be within the public and private sector locally or further afield. There may be key people within the council for example that coordinate several different services.
Forming informal partnerships and getting to know leaders and their assistants in your local area can give useful information and insights into opportunities to get involved with big projects and community shows happening in the near future, for example. Meeting a centre manager and having a good conversation about what is new in their business may lead to being able to hold workshops in a meeting space with the facilities you need, that has just become available.
When you know what is happening in your locality it can help you to prioritise in what way to proceed to gain the best outcomes to enable your team to reach your charities goals best. Prioritising is important in all professional roles in order to achieve the most you can with limited time, money and resources. This skill of continuously identifying the most important goals first, is certainly of importance in the context of a charitable organisation where people and resources are often stretched and changes are constantly happening.
Being able to adapt is also key. The good news is after several months of volunteering you will be easily able to develop your existing performance and identify lots of examples of these valuable skills.
Get some creative promotions
Marketing and promoting your children’s charity is often an essential aspect to the role, even if you are involved with a very well-known brand in the industry. Large charities often have many different departments and services as well as commercial premises such as shops. Depending on what area of the organisation that you will be volunteering in, you are probably going to be helping to promote your charity’s locations, events, products and services.
The branding varies between charity’s however each organisation will have many different ways or ‘media’ to communicate their messages. Logos and slogans along with contact information and important facts can be found in many formats on all sorts of digital channels and physical items including: leaflets, posters, websites, TV and radio adverts, social media posts, magazines, shop windows, company cars, staff uniforms, merchandise, billboards, stationary and letters to their supporters and service users.
Volunteer’s can help design, manufacture and distribute these marketing materials, which can be a creative and fun activity where ideas that are followed through can give rewarding results. It is crucial to have a strong understanding of the brand values of your charity to make sure you are always ‘keeping up standards’ of presentation and behaviour that supports the values and objectives of your team. This is an area where you can also be a role model for others, when you fully understand the culture and can confidently reflect the organisations aims.
Getting involved with marketing and promotion can be a great way of developing your CV and creative portfolio. This in turn can help in your future career in education or healthcare or any other industry in the future, should you so wish to pursue one. Understanding the many different ways that the charity markets and promotes its key messages can combine with becoming knowledgeable in how the company operates in order to attract service users and supporters.
It is fascinating how charites often strive to form on-going customer relationships in the same sort of way as keeping in touch with a club’s members. Having experience of the marketing and promotion of a charity both internally (through clear branding and communication of values) and externally (to the general public) is good experience that can be utilised in other healthcare, educational or commercial roles in both the public and private sector in the future.
Positively develop your identity
Adults choose to volunteer for lots of different reasons and some may include moving to a new area, gaining experience in a new industry or the wish to make a positive difference in their communities often following a difficult or negative life experience, such as an illness or bereavement. A career break may be unexpected (such as redundancy) or unexpected (such as maternity leave) and this may give an opportunity to work in a new environment.
Meeting a new team of people where often new friendships are formed can be a way of positively recharging your life and lifestyle. Surrounding yourself with clean living professional people who have the same (or similar) values to you is very good for mental health and well-being and learning new skills and having new experiences is very empowering.
Being out of your comfort zone, even occasionally, can do wonders for your confidence and therefore your ability to enjoy life. Volunteering on a regular basis for a children’s charity can be positive for many areas of your life, including contributing to and being part of an individual’s sense of self and having a strong and positive personal and cultural identity.
(1) DBS checks for childminders and childcare workers, Gov.UK website, 1 March 2022 (1) DBS checks for childminders and childcare workers, Gov.UK website
(2) Vulnerable children ‘damaged’ by government spending cuts’ Rebecca Thomas, Health Correspondent, The Independent, 19 November 2021 (2) ‘Vulnerable children ‘damaged’ by government spending cuts’ Rebecca Thomas, Health Correspondent, The Independent