(Match)making an impact: the value of volunteering

Loes van Rheen

It’s UK Volunteers’ Week — and in the first of our series this week to mark the occasion, Loes van Rheen, April ’15 Associate explains why getting the match right is so crucial — and how her own voluntary experience led to a dramatic career change.

In my previous life I was a financial consultant for EY in Amsterdam. But at some point, working for large multinationals didn’t satisfy me, so I started looking for something outside my day job, and signed up to volunteer at a local music centre that provides music and dance classes for mostly immigrant children. The people were lovely — but there was a huge mismatch between the day-to-day support they needed and where I felt I could be most valuable.

laluz volunteers in action
lalux volunteers in action (photo: laluz)

I continued my search and came across laluz, which matches young professionals to NGOs in need of certain skills, from marketing expertise to legal or financial advice. Laluz itself is funded by charging a small matchmaking fee and through its events where commercial and non-profit organisations meet. This year alone, they’ve matched almost 1000 young professionals with over 2000 NGOs, including Greenpeace, Red Cross, Warchild and many more.

Through laluz I was able to help a range of NGOs, mostly lacking either capacity or budget to execute their ideas. For example, I worked with one tiny NGO that enabled doctors to go to remote villages in India to do minor eye operations that could prevent lifelong blindness. One of their funders required an official accounting statement for a relatively small grant. I advised the NGO to negotiate an alternative means of assuring them the financial statements were correct and accurate. The result? The funder agreed and signed off on the final payment.

It was great to see immediate, positive results like this. But the experience did so much more for me: it opened up a whole new world, making me realise I needed a radical career shift. A few short months later I started a new career at Utz Certified — back then a small organisation but now one of the largest sustainability labels for coffee, cocoa and tea.

Matchmaking initiatives like laluz — such as LinkedIn which now has a matching functionality, or hashtagcharity, a great resource for IT support — are tapping into the growing interest in employee volunteering and pro bono advice, where commercial companies allow staff to contribute to a good cause.

With more companies making professional skills available, and with organisations dedicated to placing the right volunteers in the right role, the shared value of volunteering can really be optimised.

Without my laluz experience I wouldn’t be where I am now. Did my volunteer journey end after that? Not at all! I’ve recently been volunteering at the Food Bank in Amsterdam. And I’ve just moved to London, ready to take on my next challenge while on the On Purpose programme. Suggestions are more than welcome!