Why YOU should consider volunteering: Dispelling the myths

Posted on: 24 Apr 2017

Student volunteer working with the elderly

Volunteering can get a bad press among students.

An association with working a couple of shifts in a charity shop sorting through people’s unwanted belongings can make volunteering seem unappealing, but there’s so much more to getting involved in volunteering; be it in a charity shop or elsewhere. Here’s Purple Door’s guide on volunteering to help dispel some of the common ‘myths’ and preconceived ideas students might have about offering their time as a volunteer.

“Volunteering can only be in a charity shop or fundraising with a charity bucket.”

Here at Purple Door our Volunteering Team works with over 140 local and national organisations that range from local theatres and schools; to the prison service and environmental groups - the organisations we work with are all‘not-for- profit’ and offer a wide range of opportunities to meet the needs and interests of our students.

We’ve had volunteers supporting inner city primary school pupils learning to read; volunteers working with Hampshire Constabulary to raise awareness of community safety issues; and student volunteers involved in photography, social media campaigns and promoting local interests, such as naval history and arts and cultural activities.

All of our roles will engage with different members of the community in some way – be it children, teenagers, adults, those with disabilities and additional needs or working with your fellow students around campus.

And volunteering doesn’t start and end with us at Purple Door – there are opportunities to get involved in and activities delivered by the Students’ Union through societies, their peer mentoring scheme and sports clubs, via our Sports & Recreation Department at the university, or you can source your own volunteering opportunity either here in Portsmouth or when you return home over the holidays through do-it.org.

The options available to you are wide-ranging and almost endless, so make sure you opt for something that sparks your interest and will develop your skills.

“Volunteering is going to take up too much of my time when I’m already bogged down with work and study.”

All of the organisations we work with recognise that you are here first and foremost to study. They appreciate that this is your priority.

For this reason most of our opportunities ask for between one hour a week and one day per week. Several organisations are happy with a three month commitment so you don’t need to a commit to a whole year if you aren’t able to.

Just be aware that there are exceptions to this rule, but this is normally down to the level of training you need and/or due to the nature of the work you’ll be undertaking.

Aside from all this, time management is a highly desirable graduate skill, so making sure you have a healthy balance between work, study and extra-curricular activities, such as volunteering, is going to be crucial.

Student volunteers working with PARCS

“Volunteering is a totally selfless act.”

Of course it’s not. It’s important to ensure that you are getting something out of the experience, as well as the organisation benefitting from your time, skills and experience.

We know it sounds like a cliché, but you will always get out what you put in and we know from student feedback that volunteering can be both self-fulfilling and rewarding.

“I feel that I have benefited a lot from helping out with this project, my confidence has grown, and it has helped with my degree as the skills I have learnt from this project I have been able to transfer to my dissertation. It is also nice to have somewhere to go that I enjoy and where I can forget about my university work for a bit” – feedback from a Final Year Sociology & Criminology student

Research also shows that when people help others, they feel better about themselves and their own lives. There is a Chinese proverb that says “a bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers.” And volunteering is exactly like giving flowers – when you give your time and your talents, your own life is made better. You’ll feel glad when you see a person benefit and be happier because of something you did and contributed to.

“Volunteering is just the same as unpaid work/free labour.”

Whilst there is no payment involved in offering your time as a volunteer, organisations recognise that you are there in a voluntary capacity, so whilst a certain level of commitment will be required, there will be greater flexibility in the work that you do with them.

When you start volunteering with an organisation make sure you’re clear from the outset about what your role and responsibilities are. Some organisations may ask you to sign a ‘volunteer contract’, agreeing what their expectations are of you as a volunteer and what you can expect from them in return.

If you find yourself in a sticky situation later down the line, then make sure you refer back to the contract to clarify your role. You should never feel exploited.

Student volunteers working with the Stroke Association

“It’s all very well volunteering, but employers are only really interested in paid work experience and academic activities.”

With over 300,000 students graduating every year from universities across the UK, we all know that the graduate labour market can be a challenge to break into. That’s why getting involved in volunteering can add real value to your CV and applications.

Not only might it look favourable that you’ve given up your spare time to help a worthy cause, but you’ll have gained real world experience, along with skills, attributes and values required by graduate recruiters.

When looking at ‘What Graduate Employers Really Want’, Reed.co.uk outline that “with almost all graduate roles attracting thousands of qualified university leavers, candidates need to stand out in any way they can. [Voluntary work] will not only show your enthusiasmand drive, it’ll also make you that bit different from everyone else with the same degree as you.”

So don’t be afraid to make sure you stand out from the crowd!

If you want to see what we can offer then visit the Virtual Volunteering Bank or if you have any questions then contact the Volunteering Team on email purpledoor-volunteering@port.ac.uk.

So what are YOU waiting for?

Hopefully we’ve helped to dispel some of the common myths about volunteering from a student’s perspective.

If you’re now keen to get stuck into volunteering then why not visit the Volunteering Bank on MyPurpleDoor now to find out more about the opportunities we currently have available? Or drop into Purple Door to speak with one of our Information& Employment Advisers.