“Why should I become a volunteer?,” you ask, as I send you a link to join our volunteers group on Facebook. “What’s really in it for me?”
Okay, you might not actually say that last bit (volunteering is, after all, supposed to be an altruistic hobby) but you might be thinking it in your head. It’s natural to think this – if you’re devoting your free time to something without gaining any tangible benefits, you’re gonna wonder what all the fuss is about.
In aid of Volunteers Week, I’m going to tell you what the fuss is actually about. I’ll start by telling you a little story that ended up making a really big difference in someone’s life. Go and get yourself a wee cuppa and rest assured this is a COVID-free blog with a happy ending, and it might just encourage you to take up a new hobby…
Taking the leap
A few years ago, a rather nervous first-year student was browsing through the stalls of a careers fair at her university. As if university isn’t daunting enough, the pressure to choose what you want to do with your life can be overwhelming; all these company reps handing out leaflets, trying to lure you into their graduate scheme. It makes an already anxious person a little more anxious….
…until she comes across someone clad in a full-body fox costume sitting across the hall, waving at her.
Of course, the student gravitates towards the smiley fox lady. Any animal lover would have probably done the same; it’s a pretty interesting get-up. After exchanging a quick greeting they begin to chat about this fox lady’s charity. The student realises she agrees with everything they stand for; her values align with charity. She begins to ask more questions. The student had no idea that fox hunting was still legal, or that 26,000 hares are culled every year for no good reason. She instantly signs up to become a member.
A year or so passes, and the student has received multiple communications from the charity. She knows all about what they do, and she sees what their volunteers get up to in their newsletter. She has some free time on her hands, and she wants to do something to help. The student contacts the charity and asks if there is anything she can do, specifically asking for something online as she doesn’t feel she has the confidence for face-to-face events.
Yes, the student was me.
I was a shy and quiet 18-year-old when I signed up to be a member of OneKind. In the space of 4 years, my life has changed completely. When I first asked to volunteer online, Sarah, my predecessor, invited me along to a vegan festival to record some of the event for our Instagram page. I don’t think I actually said anything, I just sort of walked around taking pictures with my phone. Would I have guessed that in a few years I’d be working for them fulltime in my dream job? Would I have guessed that I would be a confident, well-spoken animal welfare activist? Would I have been able to imagine I’d be beginning a conservation-based postgraduate degree this year to further understand the welfare issues facing Scotland’s animals?
I’m gonna guess no. There’s no way I’d be where I am now if I hadn’t gone up to that fox lady that day (Lisa, if you’re reading this, thank you), or if I hadn’t taken that leap from being a member to becoming a volunteer. Volunteering completely changed my life in the best way possible, and I am so grateful to OneKind for all the support they provided me with during my volunteering. I can hardly believe that now, it’s my job to look after our volunteers. I want to make that difference in someone else’s life, and if you think that could be you, please read on.
So what do you actually get from volunteering?
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved animals. I’m a member of about half a dozen animal/environmental charities because I need to be. I need to feel like I am making a difference, and the only way to feel that is to actually start making a difference. Volunteering allows you to do this, and when you volunteer for a charity like OneKind, you can see the difference you help to make. I remember doing an event stall a couple of years ago with OneKind, where we were campaigning to make CCTV mandatory in all Scottish abattoirs. The government have now committed to doing this; because of our work, farm animals cannot be burned with cigarette ends, or kicked and beaten before slaughter. OneKind creates change, and with such a small number of staff (9, to be exact), the volunteers are instrumental in achieving this.
This was a biggie for me. Like I said, I was a very shy and nervous teenager when I first started volunteering. I am delighted to say that is no longer the case, and I’ve prospered because of it. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals who you can speak to about your shared passions is so fulfilling. When I began volunteering, I found myself surrounded by wonderful, supportive people who all cared about the same issues I cared about, and I didn’t have to worry that they were going to shut me down or dismiss me as boring for going on “another animal welfare rant” – everyone cares at OneKind. You have a voice and a support network. You have the confidence to approach the public about your campaigns because you believe in them, and because you know you aren’t alone. You go to events, demonstrations, and meetings and your voice is heard. A few years ago, I would have been too scared to approach a stranger. A few months ago, I held a protest against animals being used for entertainment and met with the local business owner who’s event we were protesting, peacefully standing my ground. If you had told me I’d be doing that when I first became a OneKind member, I would never have believed you.
I touched on this in my previous point, but I just wanted to stress the benefits of being part of such an amazing community. I have made life-long friends through my voluntary work with OneKind. Sometimes we all need to chat to someone who shares the same values that we do, and from an animal welfare point of view, I know that all the OneKind volunteers share those values. Very early on, I considered the OneKind team themselves as good friends the more I got to speak with them on my visits to the office. It’s so rewarding to be able to speak about issues so close to your heart with someone who just gets it. We have a volunteers’ group on Facebook where we share updates, chat and support each other. Recently, we’ve also started a book club where we decide on an animal-themed book to read each month for discussion. It’s such a great community to be a part of, and it’s so nice to have something outside of your friends and family where you can have fun and receive support.
Where do I even begin with this one? I knew next to nothing about animal welfare issues in Scotland before I started volunteering for OneKind. Not only did I learn things on a daily basis from other volunteers, but I learned so much about our campaigns through attending events and demonstrations. I’m still learning. The team are incredibly informed on these issues and have ample resources to share about their campaigns. After a few events and some practice, I could automatically list off any facts or figures relating to each campaign. You learn so much from these events the more you attend them. After a while, it just becomes second nature. And if you don’t know the answer to a question? You’re standing next to someone that does. As I said, the team are incredibly knowledgeable and do phenomenal research to back up each campaign.
So how do I get involved?
If you’re thinking about becoming a volunteer, please get in touch. If you feel as if you can’t assist with events and you’d be better suited to something less face-to-face, that’s fine. If you’re looking for some more information about volunteering, but haven’t made your mind up yet, that’s fine too. I would be delighted to chat to you about how you can get involved and answer any questions that you may have.
I know I said I wouldn’t mention Coronavirus…but this is just a quickie. Most of our events have been postponed or cancelled, so “physical” volunteering is definitely on hold right now. But don’t let that put you off getting in touch. If you have a particular skill or idea that you think might be of help, drop me an email and let’s see what we can do. Or if you just want to join our volunteers group and be kept in the loop for when we get back out in the open, do the same thing. Like all charities, we’ve obviously taken a financial hit from COVID-19, so if you have a great idea for a fundraiser that you can do safely while following Government guidelines, let me know – I’m here to help and support you however I can. It’s my job to make sure you gain as much from volunteering as I did, and my inbox is always open. Stay safe everyone, happy Volunteers Week and don’t hesitate to get in touch.
For all volunteer enquiries, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.