Volunteering: the myths and the magic

In this post, as part of our celebration of Volunteers’ Week, Emma Douglas (Journalism and Broadcast Media 2005), Supporter Care Manager at BBC Children in Need, dispels some of the myths about volunteering.

The value of volunteers

After undertaking a degree in Journalism and Broadcast Media at Leeds, I decided to take a breather; I wanted to explore other things I might be good at and enjoy. By some unpredictable turn of events, I ended up embarking on a career in the Third Sector. Heading up the fundraising and PR department of a small charity in Sheffield, I learned very quickly that raising money for a cause, no matter how worthy, is almost impossible without the help of volunteers. This remains true even in large organisations where people giving their time for free generates millions of pounds every single year.

It’s not all planting gardens and building playgrounds!

Now, I won’t lie, it can be tricky getting the right people, and as someone who has managed a volunteering programme, I can tell you that when you find someone who has all the right energy, enthusiasm and a bank of transferable skills, you feel like you’ve struck gold. The best volunteers know their strengths and they offer them with gusto.

Maybe you want to plant a garden or help to build a playground, or maybe that’s not your bag. These roles, whilst shiny and exciting, are quite rare and not always the kind of thing that the charity is really struggling with. Think about what you’re good at, as well as what you enjoy, and try and think about what is actually going to be useful for the organisation you’re supporting. If you’re not sure, ask them!

Most charitable organisations operate on a very lean workforce, meaning there will often be one person doing a variety of roles. This could be where you could really add some value. One of the best volunteers I ever managed was someone who was just red-hot at admin; she loved a label, a post-it, and a filing system, and she transformed the office and our processes for us.

The pandemic has had a real impact on the services charities have been able to provide and a recent survey, led by BBC Children in Need, found that 68% percent of children and young people felt that young people’s mental health had deteriorated as a result of the pandemic. BBC England has launched a campaign called Happy Heads to promote volunteering at some of the organisations who have expressed a particular need. I’ve already signed up! Will you?

It’s a two-way street

As you’re not getting paid for your hard work as a volunteer, you must be motivated by something else. It may be that you love all the feels and going home knowing that you have done something for the benefit of someone less fortunate. Or, perhaps you’re searching for something that isn’t being fulfilled by your day job. As long as you’re committed to the role you’re volunteering for, it’s also okay if you’re doing it to advance your career.

People always think that they should say: “I really want to make a difference” even when they know deep down that what they really want is something to jazz up their CV. If that’s you, own it! If you’re bringing the skills and the charity is benefiting, then regardless of your motivating factors, it’s a win, win; who knows, you might just fall in love with the cause along the way.

In all shapes and sizes

Before I got into the charity sector, I was sure that volunteering only meant holding a bucket in the high street, selling raffle tickets, or packing bags at the local supermarket. I was very, very wrong! Do-it.org has over 1.6 million opportunities currently listed and there are so many different roles; something to suit a variety of skills, availability and causes that may be close to your heart. The most important thing is that you choose a role that really interests you; something which will ease your craving for creativity, quench your thirst for public speaking, or scratch your analytical itch. Whatever you’re looking for, there will almost certainly be something for you.

A little bit of magic in every role

There’s something really special about using your talents for good. Don’t stop yourself from pursuing a volunteering opportunity with excuses about a lack of time, lack of skills, or a lack of desire to help others; you’ve read this far, so you’re already considering it. What have you got to lose? If you go into volunteering with an open mind and the willingness to be challenged, you’ll be rewarded in ways you may not have been before, and experience a magical journey of self-discovery. I won’t attempt to devise an inspirational quote, I’ll just steal this, already perfectly formed one:

Celebrating Leeds alumni volunteers

From a deckhand sailing to give humanitarian aid, to a Covid-19 community care volunteer delivering essentials in Leeds. Across the world and right back here on campus, Leeds alumni are supporting causes close to their hearts.

For Volunteers’ Week 2021, a time to celebrate the contribution of volunteers everywhere, join us as we discover Leeds alumni volunteering stories.

And if you are interested in volunteering to support students and graduates at Leeds, get in touch to find out how.



The University of Leeds was founded in 1904, and its origins go back to the nineteenth century with the founding of the Leeds School of Medicine in 1831.

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