Ludmila Lekes

Ludmila Lekes

Former Private Client Manager, Philanthropy Services

Charities Aid Foundation

Beyond Financial Giving: How to Give Your Time Well

Volunteering or donating your time and expertise can be an effective, sustainable and a rewarding way to support your local communities and charities of choice. Nevertheless, there are several factors to consider when deciding how to best engage with any project or an organisation to ensure that your good intentions don’t result in any setbacks for the very charity you wish to help. 

When thinking about the right volunteering fit, there are several considerations you need to make with utmost care:

1. Interest and cause area

Think about the cause area that you feel passionate about and wish to make a difference in. Volunteering can be a long-term commitment and it is important to choose an opportunity that builds on your existing interests. 

This should also entail looking for an opportunity that allows you to use or develop your existing skills and education; it is worth thinking about what else, other than your time, you have to offer. Many charities are looking for volunteers without any specific skills and happy to train them, but professional expertise such as law or accountancy is often highly sought after. 

It is equally important to be honest with yourself when thinking about what you actually want to get out of the role. Depending on the nature of the cause area, long-term work with the vulnerable can be upsetting and it is important to be prepared for this. Andrew Fordham, Head of Fundraising at Breaking Barriers, a charity devoted to helping refugees in London find meaningful employment and thus rebuild their lives and integrate into their new home, advises all volunteers to consider this carefully. In their case, volunteers work with refugees who are in and often continue to face challenging situations. Working with them on regular basis and not seeing them progress or hearing about the things that they have been through may become very distressing. Therefore, do not underestimate how emotionally draining volunteering can be. Be honest when considering whether this is a challenge you are happy and prepared to take on.  

2. The time you can give

It is important to be realistic about the type of time commitment you can make. Charities often see enthusiastic volunteers drop out as soon as they realise that volunteering can be hard work and that making a real difference takes time. At Breaking Barriers, your training alone can take up to three months. According to Andrew, most people tend to drop out during this initial period and it is due to ‘disconnect between their expectations and the reality of working with the vulnerable and the time commitment that is required.’ A high volunteer turnaround ultimately takes a toll on the organisation the volunteers wish to support, draining it of training resources and slowing down effective delivery of its programmes. 

Therefore, think about your personal circumstances and consider whether a long-term commitment is something you can truly afford making. If not, there is an abundance of opportunities with clearly defined start and end dates, which will still allow you to give back in an impactful way.

3. Where you wish to volunteer

Think about the charities within your chosen cause area that you already know and fund. Volunteering can be a great way for you to enhance your existing relationship with these through a hands-on experience, allowing you to further your understanding of both the cause and the organisation’s day-to-day operations. 

Contacting the charities you already know can be a great starting point in your search for the right volunteering opportunity. That being said, it is important to have a frank conversation with the charity and ensure they don’t feel pressured into offering you a position out of fear of losing your financial support. Sometimes, no positions may be available or they simply might not be the right match for your skill set. It is important to remain open to the possibility of such feedback. 

If you are starting to develop a new relationship with a charity you haven’t previously supported, your decision as to where to volunteer will likely be underpinned by the choice of the cause area you wish to focus on, but may need to be adjusted depending on your time constraints. Deciding whether you are willing to travel and, if so, how far, will help you narrow down the search for the right position. 

When searching for a local volunteering opportunity, visiting your local volunteering centre and familiarising yourself with the current needs in your area is a good starting point. If you are looking to volunteer abroad, make sure to first thoroughly research the organisation you wish to join. With the rise of so-called ‘voluntourism’, it is important to ensure that the programme you will be delivering is ethical and truly puts the needs of the beneficiaries first. 

To find the right fit that matches your expectations, make sure to also browse through some of the online portals listing (often remote) volunteering opportunities. Some useful resources include Do IT, Charity Job, and Volunteering Matters, and Voluntary Services Overseas and Accounting for International Development (AFID) for overseas opportunities.

4. Trusteeship

If you feel ready to make a serious commitment to a charity of your choice and assume legal responsibility for its management, administration, assets, and reputation, it may be worth considering becoming a Trustee. This is a key, but often a very difficult role to fill in the voluntary sector; some estimate that almost half of all charities are searching for Trustees at any given time. Again, joining a charity in this capacity is a decision you shouldn’t make lightly as the role comes with a number of legal duties and responsibilities

Before joining any board of Trustees, it is important that you understand these, but also research the organisation, familiarise yourself with its governing document and have a full understanding of the role itself (i.e. the frequency of meetings, the other activities Trustees are expected to participate in, whether Trustees serve on committees, etc.). In addition to searching the above listed portal for vacancies, you can also use organisations such as Trustees Unlimited or Reach Volunteering that register interest and match charities with Trustees. 

5. Do your due diligence

If you decide to volunteer for an organisation you have funded in the past, you should already have researched it inside out. However, if you don’t have much insight into the operations of the charity, it is crucial to do your homework and research the organisation and/or project you will be supporting. You will want to ensure that your values and beliefs match that of the charity you are volunteering for and any programme you are delivering is ethical, with a solid evidence-based framework underpinning it. 

Likewise, make sure to ask specific questions about the role and the organisation’s volunteering policy. It is important to understand what, if any, training will be provided, what your job description is, and what your rights are should anything go wrong. 

Volunteering can be an incredibly rewarding and effective way of making a difference. Supporting the organisations and causes you care about by showing up, and dedicating your time and expertise, can allow you to not only give back, but also learn more about the particular issue you wish to alleviate.

Often you will be able to develop new skills and valuable experiences at the same time. To get the most out of the experience, make sure to choose the role you commit to wisely. We are always delighted to provide you with recommendations tailored to you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your client manager, who will be able to support you further, or contact our team