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Volunteering and Working with a Charity

People can think that volunteering for a charity means shaking a bucket and asking for money but it is so much more than that.  If you want to meet new people, gain new skills, give yourself a head-start in the job market and make a real difference in the world, then volunteering is definitely for you.

I met with Laura Precious, who works for the charity Safe Haven Children’s Trust, to find out how she got into the sector and what skills she has gained from her charity activities.

Image of Laura Precious

First of all could you tell me a little about yourself and how you started working with Safe Haven Children’s Trust?

I’m the Fundraising & Development Manager at Safe Haven and have been working for them on a part-time basis for nearly a year.  I’m also Development Manager for an inclusive arts centre in North London, so currently divide my time between the two charities.  All my previous jobs have been ‘Monday – Friday, 9-5’, so it’s nice to now have a bit of flexibility and variety.

I saw the Safe Haven job advertised on the www.charityjob.co.uk website – a great site for charity jobs and volunteering opportunities.  I wanted to work for a really small charity where I could see that every penny I raised would make a big difference to the lives of others, and that’s exactly what I found with Safe Haven.  The charity raises money to help orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable babies and young children in Cambodia – a cause that instantly inspired me to get involved.

What is your experience of volunteering?

I have volunteered before.  When I was younger I was a bit of an environmentalist, so would volunteer with Friends of the Earth and similar charities.  I’d hand out leaflets, do some fundraising, support their events, etc. – and loved every minute of it as I got to meet great people and felt like I was changing the world!

Since then I’ve volunteered for a number of charities, always doing things that interested me such as putting on events, doing sponsored challenges etc.  I went to Romania with a charity for a month to volunteer in orphanages out there.  To fundraise for my trip I put on a comedy night – and a little known comedian called Michael McIntyre was the opening act!  I’ve volunteered with Oxfam in exchange for a ticket to Glastonbury Festival and was also part of the volunteer team that raised the most money ever through an Oxjam music fundraiser – £10,000 from a club night at the O2.

What made you decide to work for a charity?

It’s a bit of a cliché but I really wanted to make a difference in the world.  Plus I wanted a job that was creative and exciting – something that inspired me to work hard rather than sit watching the clock, waiting for the day to end.  I’d previously worked doing publicity for National Geographic and a music video company but the media industry wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next.

In 2005 I started a project in my spare time to try and pay off £10,000 of my student debts in 365 days – the ‘One Girl :: One Year’ challenge.  During that time I met a very kind man who agreed to match every penny I made and donate it to a charity of my choice.  I made £5,000 and he donated £5,000 to my chosen charities.  I gave £3,000 to a children’s hospice and £2,000 to the disability charity Kith & Kids – and it was from my chats with their fundraiser that I decided I wanted to work for a charity.

Do you think there are particular skills that you gain from working for a charity or from volunteering?

As the work is so varied within a charity you gain a number of skills from working or volunteering within that environment.  In Fundraising, you develop your creativity – learning to build on existing ideas and developing new ones. Fundraising is like a challenge – you have a financial target and you always need to be thinking of new and innovative ideas on how to get there, which is exciting.

You gain skills in both verbal and written communication and learn to work with people of all ages and backgrounds.  This is especially true within the Marketing team of a charity, as you need to get your message across to a range of people in the most appropriate and compelling way.

Time management and budgeting also play a key part in volunteering, especially if you are raising money for a charity or encouraging others to do so.

You know of people who have secured paid jobs through volunteering. Could you tell me a little bit about them?

I’ve been on a number of recruitment panels and if somebody has volunteering on their CV, it always makes them stand out from the crowd.  It shows initiative, commitment and a bit of ‘get up and go’.

I know many people who have started as office-based volunteers at charities in the Fundraising, Marketing and Campaigns divisions and when paid positions came up, they were the ones that got the jobs.  Similarly, a number of people who started volunteering on creative projects for the arts charity I work with have gone on to work as fully paid arts tutors – earning £200 a day doing something they love.

When I worked for a children’s hospice, a student did a parachute job to raise money for us and also managed to persuade lots of her friends to take part in fundraising activities.  She gained valuable skills in marketing, managing money and communications, plus had proved that she was hard working and dedicated to the cause.  She is now full-time Events Manager at the charity.

Volunteering can also give you a step-up into employment in other sectors.  A friend of mine wanted to get into large-scale music events and I suggested she started putting on little gigs for charity to get some experience.  Through connections made when putting on a gig for Oxfam’s Oxjam campaign, she is now in paid employment working on events such as The Brits and Glastonbury Festival.

Can you tell me a little bit about the 100 Club?

The Safe Haven Hundred Club is Safe Haven’s first fundraising campaign.  We’re looking for 100 people who can raise at least £100 each in 100 days.  People can raise the money however they choose – putting on events, getting sponsored, selling things – so it’s a great way for people to get involved in which ever way suits them best. Challenges are very popular as they inspire and motivate people, and that’s why we’ve gone for at least £100 in 100 days.  There will be awards for the ‘Most Raised’ and ‘Most Innovative Fundraiser’, and we can’t wait to hear how people are going to raise their money.  £100 could pay for 3 nutritious meals a day for a vulnerable child for 5 months in Cambodia – so fundraisers will be making a big difference by taking part.

What would you say is the highlight of working for a charity?

I really enjoy my job – more than I ever thought I would.  It’s hard work and you rarely get moments when you can sit back and relax but that makes the day go quickly and keeps things interesting.  I’d say there are many highlights to working for a charity. I guess the main one being that you can see with your own eyes how you are actually changing other people’s lives for the better.  At Safe Haven, I am responsible for raising money that could actually save the lives of vulnerable babies and children… I find that thought quite overwhelming.   Other highlights are that charities attract great people and the office is a fun and relaxed place to work.  There is a great sense of teamwork that I don’t think you get in many other sectors.

What would you say to someone who was thinking about working for a charity or volunteering?

Do it!  You’ll get so much from volunteering on a personal level and it’ll give you a huge advantage over other people when you’re applying for jobs.  Whatever your interests, there will always be a charity and a volunteering opportunity that will suit you.  If you’re sociable and outgoing, you could get together with friends and put on fundraising events to raise money.  You could encourage your club or society to get involved and gain valuable skills in marketing and publicity. People that like sport could get sponsored to do something challenging…  The list is endless.

If you’re thinking you would like to work for a charity, start to think about the type of cause you’d like to support – children, animals, the environments, arts, health etc. – and the type of job you might like to do – either office-based fundraising, marketing, campaigns, finance or perhaps ‘on the ground’ delivering the charity’s work.  Then look for volunteering opportunities that fit with what you want.  Working for a charity is getting more and more competitive, so getting some experience early on will make a real difference.

What do you feel is your best experience working for Safe Haven?

As Safe Haven is a small charity, I love that I have the freedom to try new ideas.  The charity only started in 2010, so we have a real challenge on our hands to raise money and promote the work that we do, which is very exciting.

The Hundred Club is a new idea and could raise £10,000 for us, which is a huge amount for the charity of our size, and I know it’ll make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable babies and children.  And that’s the best bit of my job – getting photos and hearing stories about the young children whose futures will now be brighter because of the work that I do.  That’s a brilliant feeling…and one you probably don’t get in a bank!

Many thanks for speaking with me and sharing your experiences Laura

You’re welcome!

The Safe Haven Hundred Club was launched in January 2012 and is open to people of all ages – contact laura@safehavencambodia.org for more information.

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