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Claudia Dickens: 10 reasons why volunteering should be top of your to-do list

Posted on 12 Feb 2014

It’s my first day as a volunteer and I am crouched, damp and muddy, in an overgrown hedge…

I’m desperately trying to shove myself backwards into the nettles so that I won’t be seen. The sweat is dripping from behind my mask and there’s a bin bag snagging my neck. With a screech I am spotted, pulled from my den and dragged into the sunlight. Cutting across the hollers of success, a voice exclaims: “But why does Batman have boobies?”.

My superhero debut was enacted accompanied by Lady Gaga, a heavily bearded Snow White and forty ten year-olds, all young carers attending one of numerous university projects. Like many, volunteering was without a doubt the best decision I made as a student. Here are my 10 lessons learnt:

1. Join the enthusiasm

Not restricted to a ‘type’, volunteering is open for all and a sure way to meet like-minded students. You are all there because you are friendly, sociable, open-minded and like meeting new people. One big group of keen beans. There are some great socials to be had and life-long friends to be made.

2. Time is everything

With perhaps the exception of the post-university unemployment blues, as a student you have more time on your hands than you are likely to have again. Make the most of this flexibility: your week will feel more accomplished and energised, and it will have a positive impact on your studies.

3. Meet the locals

All universities are bubbles. Whilst this feeling of community and shared purpose is great, it will do you good to get out and engage with non-students once in a while. Be it children or adults, spending time with the local community is refreshing and will help to make the city feel like home.

4. Don’t wait for the next leaf-turn

Get that dreaded feeling of missing a society induction or first social? Joining late can be hard. Volunteering societies, however, are constantly recruiting and you can be sure of a strong welcome at any point in the year. Start today and in September you can apply for a committee role.

5. The weird and wonderful

In no other situation would I have ever been able to hitchhike to Europe as a tiger, lead a team of fifty students, face-paint half of the city, or run around campus dressed as Batman. Enough said.

6. The mini-job

Remember that lure of the toy cash register? Once graduated, you may look longingly at the head of marketing, project manager or team director and know it will take years before you are given that responsibility and creative control. As a volunteer you could be organising a project, managing a team, designing publicity, coordinating events or teaching a class. Take these opportunities to do the big stuff before you’re on the bottom rung of a long ladder.

7. Consequently Valuable (C.V.)

You will be tired of hearing that a degree on its own will no longer get you where you want to be. But for many jobs you will be up against people who have graduated before you and now have a few years’ experience under their belts. Whether you want to work in the non-profit sector or not, volunteering will enable you to demonstrate the necessary administrative, managerial and creative skills.

8. Get hands-on

In the charity sector, a huge bulk of the work is done from behind a desk. Volunteering as both a student and a graduate will allow you to keep doing hands-on work with charity beneficiaries.

9. No cheese here

Wanting to make a positive difference to another’s life is not a cliché. The projects you partake in or money you raise is going to put some good out there. You have time, experience and energy to contribute; don’t underestimate the impact you can have or the relationships you can build.

10. The best times

Whilst many students will start volunteering for one of the above reasons, there is no doubt why, once they’ve started, they won’t stop. Student volunteering is rewarding, challenging and enormously fun. Once you’ve got the bug you will wonder why it took you so long to get there, and hopefully you will continue to find projects you love once you’re out the other side.

Claudia Dickens

Claudia studied at the University of Exeter. After spending a year eating too many Dominoes and getting too much sleep, she joined a human rights campaigns team. She went on to be a Community Action Publicity Officer, Welcome Team Leader, RAG fundraiser, Welfare Coordinator and student nightline volunteer. She now works as a Programme Officer at international development charity, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women

Categories: Advice