Getting the most from your time as a volunteer

School’s out for the summer for university students, and some will be heading into volunteering roles and internships with campaigning organisations across the UK and beyond.
Doing a number of short-term internships or volunteering roles is one of the most common routes for getting a permanent job in campaigning, it’s also a good way of finding out that this perhaps isn’t the career for you.
I’ve been fortunate to have hosted lots of great volunteers in the organisation I work for over the years, and as such come up with my 8 top tips for getting the most out of your time as a volunteer with a campaigns team.
1. Be honest – Find out why you’re being asked to do the tasks your being asked to do. Some of them won’t be glamorous, but there should be a good reason for everything you’re being asked to do. Asking lots of questions is one of the best ways of understanding how different tactics and approaches come together to make a campaign.
2. Be clear – Make sure you get the time you need at the start of your time with an organisation to understand what they want you to achieve from your time, and for you to explain what you hope to achieve. If there are certain areas that you’re interested in finding out about more, ask at the start as it’s often possible to arrange something. Be clear what your objectives from the time you’ll be volunteering are.
3. Be in the room – I always try to make an effort to invite volunteers and interns to different meetings that are going on. Some of them are directly related to a project they may be involved with, but often I see them as a good opportunity to learn. If you’re invited to these meeting, GO. You’ll almost certainly get an insight that you wouldn’t have done if you’d just stayed at your desk.
4. Be Bold – It can be intimidating being a volunteer or intern, but be bold and if you think that somethings been overlooked in a meeting or if you have a good idea to contribute speak up. Chances are those involved will welcome the new insight that you’re able to bring.
5. Be a networker – Make time to try to get to know others around the organisation, approach people from different teams and ask if you might be able to meet them for lunch to find out more about their work. They’ll probably be happy to share more about it, go with some good question and you’ll come back an hour later with a better picture of how the work you’re doing links with the work of the rest of the organisation.
6. Be a learner – Ask those you’re working with for suggestions of good books, websites, reports and resources. It’s a good way to learn more about the campaigning craft and find out how others do it. Many organisations also have lunchtime sessions with internal/external speakers, go along to these as well.
7. Be cheerful – it sounds so obvious, but bring energy into the office you work in. There is little worse that a volunteer who appears uninterested. Get involved in making the tea or partaking in whatever other office routines you encounter.
8. Give feedback – At the end of your time let those you’ve been working with know what you’ve enjoyed doing, and what you found could do with some more consideration. You’ll be helping out future volunteers/interns.
What advice would you give to those coming to volunteer or intern for you this summer?
Update – The team at Bright One have also come up with an excellent list of Do’s and Don’ts for an intern.

One thought on “Getting the most from your time as a volunteer”

  1. I agree with all of your points, but having done a couple of internships myself a couple of years ago, I would also add that if you find yourself becoming exploited: leave. I spent the final two months of a five month internship at a large NGO effectively doing the work of an assistant campaigner, with the vague promise of payment or even a possible interview for the post (when it became available), but it never transpired. In the meantime, they got free labour for what had been a paid position.
    Good managers will allow their interns to have flexible working and will be understanding of the fact that they are there for free, thus adjusting work and expectations accordingly. Sadly, though, not everyone in the sector seems to get that yet.

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