How volunteering changed my life

16 February 2021

Our Marketing and Comms Executive, Betty Henderson, reflects on her experience with volunteering and why its impact should not be underestimated! 

As a teenager, the term ‘volunteering’ always had pretty negative connotations for me. I didn’t think it was a bad thing, of course, just that it wasn’t ‘fun’ or ‘cool’, or something I wanted to spend my weekends doing.

I thought volunteering meant spending time in cold church halls supervising Girl Guide groups (an activity I joylessly dedicated every Thursday evening to for months in order to earn my Duke of Edinburgh Award) or sifting through dusty old clothes in a charity shop on a Saturday afternoon (second-hand shopping hadn’t quite had its renaissance at this point).

It didn’t occur to me that volunteering could be a channel through which to gain experience and learn more about the things I really cared about. I could have spent my DofE volunteering hours working in an animal shelter, for example, or supporting elderly people in my community as a befriender – two activities that would have been far more aligned to my personal interests than supervising a bunch of rowdy Girl Guides!

Duke of Edinburgh Expedition
A very young and muddy Betty on her Gold DofE Expedition

My aversion wasn’t to the activity of volunteering but to the terminology. A pretty common feeling as it turns out. A study by Volunteer Scotland in 2018 found that 10% more people volunteer informally than formally. That is to say, more people help out in their community off their own backs than do so officially, through groups or organisations. A stat that makes perfect sense to me, how many people spend their lives ‘helping out’ but wouldn’t necessarily class themselves as volunteers?

Volunteering Vs. fundraising

Before I met Caroline, I had a very traditional understanding of volunteering and fundraising. Every year during high school, my family and I would run a Christmas Craft Fair from our kitchen, spending months creating homemade decorations, felt brooches, pinecone fire-starters, candles, brownie mix in a jar, Christmassy knick-knacks to sell to friends and family and raise money for various causes.

In my own time, I had run half-marathons, taken part in challenges and hosted fundraisers through my role with the university Hispanic Society, all for good causes. I had taken a job as a telephone fundraiser for my university and I had even considered a future career in fundraising at one point.

I met Caroline in May 2019, when Social Good Connect was still a slowly growing seed in her mind and I was finishing up my final year of studies. I was looking for a job, not a volunteer role, but after speaking to her for half an hour or so I knew I just HAD to be involved with this powerful initiative.

The purpose of Social Good Connect as a company spoke to me on many levels. I am passionate about social responsibility in business, and I have always sworn to myself that I would only work for a company who was aware of its impact on society and whose product I believed in. I have also experienced the frustration of being unable to find a volunteering opportunity that matched my skills and interests. Not long after my Grandad died, I started trying to find a way to connect with lonely older people in my neighbourhood in order to help them and provide company and companionship as I had done for my Grandad. I had reached out time and again to various organisations with no success, and eventually I gave up.

Training for a half marathon in 2016
A sweaty Betty in training for a half marathon in 2016

How volunteering changed my life

At this point, Caroline needed support to keep on top of content and admin for her previous business as she started laying down foundations for Social Good Connect. As a leader who champions volunteering in all its forms, she was looking to bring on a volunteer who needed experience in these areas and voila – there I was!

My traditional understanding of volunteering and fundraising was turned on its head as I began to work with Caroline, researching and writing for her social good consultancy website, and accompanying her to meetings and workshops as she began to design and build our Social Good Connect platform.

Volunteering in this way gave me a learning opportunity that you couldn’t even pay for. I was developing the skills I needed to pursue a career in marketing, and I was able to apply these skills in a real-life setting. At the same time, I was learning more about virtual volunteering, micro-volunteering, and how Caroline’s concept could overcome the barriers to volunteering that employees, businesses, and individuals (like me) commonly face.

My relationship with volunteering now

Working with Social Good Connect and our many charity and business partners has opened my eyes to the real importance and many benefits of volunteering. Hearing feedback from employees who have been able to support causes they are passionate about, and from the non-profit organisations who’ve benefited from that enthusiasm and skill, is a regular and heart-warming perk of the job.

We’ve had business partners tell us that our digital volunteering platform has connected them with local, grassroots charities that they would never have found otherwise, and employee volunteers who’ve told us that lending their skills for good has helped them to find a sense of purpose while furloughed. Charity partners tell us they’re now able to recruit volunteers quickly and easily in order to support vulnerable beneficiaries throughout the crisis.

I’m now finally volunteering as a befriender for elderly people in my neighbourhood, a role I found through the Social Good Connect platform. I speak to 80-something ‘James’ every week by phone, and I like to think our conversations cheer him up as much as they do me. I’m looking forward to a time where I can pay James a visit in person and we can sit down together with a pot of tea.

Volunteering has changed my life in more ways than one. I ‘ve made incredible connections, gained invaluable skills, found a job that I care about, and undoubtedly made a significant difference to Scottish communities by supporting Caroline to develop and build Social Good Connect.

To anyone who is interested in volunteering, or who perceives it to be a boring, stuffy act of duty, I say – give it a go! You never know who you will meet and where it will take you.

P.S. If, like me, you struggled to find an opportunity that suits – please get in touch and we’ll do our best to help!

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