Support Network: the benefits of volunteering
Chief Executive of The Working Manager, Managing Director of TWME8 and iRIS Health Solutions Ltd.
On the 24th of March 2020, the Health Secretary took to the podium during an emergency press conference, with a call-to-arms for the British public. The government needed 250,000 volunteers to shore up the NHS response to the coronavirus and support the 1.5 million people shielding themselves due to underlying health conditions.
It was a big ask, but in the hours following Matt Hancock’s plea, five people per second signed up to the new volunteering scheme, surpassing the government's expectations and demand in less than 24 hours.
Many were surprised that this army of volunteers — equal in size to the population of Coventry — were willing to spring into action overnight. However, I've always been a believer in the pull of volunteering.
This recent surge in volunteers is a reminder of the power of altruism. The urge to give back, serve others and contribute to something bigger than ourselves is strong. It's a noble calling that's a hallmark of our humanity, and we should salute this. But it's also important not to shy away from acknowledging that when it comes to volunteering, the benefits cut both ways.
I was reminded of this when I tuned into a CareerBurst webinar on the Power of Volunteering led by Sarah Hobbs (Talent and Potential) and Melanie Small (The Working Manager) last week. Sarah shared how the network she established through internal volunteering kick-started her career.
'It came home to me early in my career. It was almost imprinted on me as a way of working. I remember getting access to all sorts to really interesting information and direction around the organisation and getting to know some amazing people, which built some great relationships and helped me in terms of my career. I had a very rapid rise through that organisation, and I think in part this was due to getting to know people through the volunteering process.'
So, if you've had your fill of LinkedIn and your usual networking groups aren't accessible at the moment, take reassurance from knowing there are other ways to expand your network and boost your exposure to key decision-makers. Bear in mind that 92% of people who influence hiring decisions believe volunteering improves an employee's broader professional skill sets and leadership skills.
Sarah also reminded us that volunteering could be a means of self-development. Some of the most heartening stories in the media recently have been those of businesses who are adapting to forced closures by offering their services in new ways: the restauranteur providing free meals to the sick and isolating. The tour operators turning their hands to delivering vital medicines. It's heartwarming stuff, but let's not forget these businesses and employees are also building resilience by learning to adapt. They're flexing new skills and gaining experience that will help them survive an uncertain future. Good for them!
Perhaps the most compelling reason to volunteer is the 'helper's high'. If you've ever helped a colleague in a crisis or gone beyond the call of duty for a client, you'll be familiar with the afterglow it brings. Doing good feels good. So, it figures that making a conscious, regular and formal effort to help others will bring a sense of agency and control to the volunteer. It's good to feel needed - especially in times of uncertainty. Volunteering is a pro-active way to lend a sense of momentum and value to your life while the economy grinds to a halt.
If you're considering volunteering, the recording of Sarah and Mel's webinar is still available here. They share some great tips that can help you define what you want to give, what you can commit and what you want to get out of volunteering, so it works for both parties. But no matter how you decide to share your time and skills during these uncertain times, know that the goodwill, skills, feel-good vibes and network of contacts you'll gain will extend long after lockdown is lifted.