Volunteer so you can return to work: What imagery comes to mind when I say that word?

Student? Gap Year? Free? Selfless?

Volunteering is all those things and more. It can also be the gateway to your return to work, new career, promotion or even starting your own business.

Let me start with removing misconception that volunteering is unpaid work. It is not, that is illegal! Volunteering is a very specific dynamic, exchanging your skills and/time to benefit an organisations’ social goal. Traditionally for charities and schools, it is now a growing area for social enterprises and community groups.
You may have already experienced volunteering through work experience or your corporate life as part of a company’s corporate social responsibility. Even I, who doesn’t do “outside” or “gardening” have fond memories of a day of “willow lopping” at a conservation project as part of my team’s “Away Day”.

How volunteering can enhance your career progression

How you can volunteer is varied, from your work experience skills or knowledge (such as marketing, accountancy or project management), your time (such as mentoring young people) or both as volunteer Trustee, providing strategic input to an organisation.


1. Grow your confidence
If you have been on a career break, then this experience can refresh your skills, remind you what you are capable of, add to your CV and make you more employable.

2. Expand your existing skills and experience
Finish this sentence. In my day job I wish I could do more of ______________.
What have you put in the gap? Volunteering can be perfect opportunity to develop yourself whilst giving back.

3. Create a new career path
It can be very easy to get “stuck” in a particular sector; you are known in your industry and it hard to move into something new. Volunteering will give you the opportunity to apply your knowledge in a new way. Just imagine what opportunities and insight this could give!

4. Generate new contacts and networks
There is a well-known phrase in career planning “It’s not what you know it is who you know”. Just image who you will “sit around the table” with as a Trustee to a charity or get to meet as an Events Manager for a new community organisation!

“That’s all good and well Clara, but I have no idea where to start” I hear you cry!
Let me stop you right there, just answer these four question to create your volunteering plan:
1. What are you good at?
2. What do you enjoy doing?
3. What would you like to do more of OR learn more about?
4. How much time can you dedicate?
Bearing in mind volunteering can be online, in person, project work or ongoing, the answers to these questions is a great start to define what you want and can offer. Finding a volunteering opportunity is like searching for paid employment; there are sites that specialise such as Reach Volunteering that offer skilled volunteer roles and Trusteeships, regional Voluntary Service Councils that advertise opportunities (this is the Birmingham one) or simply using a search engine to find charity or volunteering positions you are open to.

If volunteering is for you, feel free to join The Balance Collective with Clara Wilcox and share your skills and experience; you never know who may be in there ready to connect you!

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