The Student Volunteer Team (SVT) held an Easter themed event last week to gather the views of students about all aspects of volunteering. Considering the end of term is fast approaching, this was a great opportunity for students to reflect on the volunteering work they’ve done this term, and to receive a free chocolate egg as a reward! Students were asked about what volunteering means to them, why they chose to volunteer and how they think it will help them in the future. Here is a summary of the results collected on the day!
Why did you choose to volunteer?
There were a number of reasons put forward in answer to this question, but the two most popular answers were quite familiar to us. The number 1 reason why students chose to volunteer was to improve on their CV and gain employable experience. The second most popular answer was to give something back, either to the community as a whole, or to people in particular need of support.(Out of the 29 feedback forms we received, 11 had stated the former reason and 8 the latter).
Perhaps not surprisingly, students are clearly considering their future and how the skills they have developed at University will help them to secure that dream job. This reaffirms the idea that volunteering is a great source for practical, real world experience.
Beyond this, students apparently see volunteering as a way to feed their social conscience. Doing good and helping others is a popular reason why students volunteer, putting to bed the unfounded assumption, held by some, that students bring no benefit to the city in which they are studying.
Other reasons put forward included having fun, meeting new people and pursuing a personal interest.
What did you enjoy most about your volunteering experience?
Asking students what they enjoyed most about volunteering produced some interesting results. Top of the pile (with 11 mentions) was making a difference to people’s lives, closely followed by (with 10 mentions) meeting new people. In comparison to the first set of answers, gaining employability skills was lower on this list with just 4 mentions. This gives further weight to the idea that becoming more employable might be the main pull when it comes to volunteering, but making a difference and meeting new people is what keeps them happy while they’re doing it.
Describe what volunteering means to you in 3 words
We wanted to know what perception of volunteering our students have. Again, the results were intriguing and came as a pleasant surprise to us.
The word ‘compassion’ or variations of it, topped the list. Again, this suggests students see volunteering as doing good, first and foremost. This was followed by words that described the fun side of voluntary work such as ‘exciting’ and ‘enjoyable’. Slightly higher on the list this time were words that described the employability benefit of volunteering, which again points to the idea that students see the worth of volunteering from a personal development standpoint, but remember the fun exciting times they have and the sense that they have done good for others, most of all.
What type of volunteering opportunities would you like to try in the future?
For our own development purposes as a department, this question helped us to reflect on the opportunities we offer and let us know whether we are providing what our students want. Fortunately, the more popular areas of volunteering are in areas that we provide, but some individual responses got us thinking about additional opportunities that might be worth introducing.
Coming top of the list was ‘working with children’. With 11 mentions, this came out on top by some way, with the closest answer (4 mentions) being ‘working with older people’, and ‘supporting people with disabilities’. Perhaps reflective of the times, ‘working with the poor and needy’ made an appearance on the list, whereas more traditional forms of volunteering, ‘working with animals, victims of crime and the infirm’ all got several mentions.
As for brand new opportunities, we will have to look at ways of incorporating ‘interior design’ and ‘working within the legal profession’ onto our list of placements!
What new skills have you learnt, and are you now more employable?
So, did students get what they wanted out of volunteering this year? From the 29 forms we received, 24 felt that volunteering made them more employable, with 2 people saying no and 3 people deciding to wait a little longer to decipher whether this is the case or not.
As for the skills they developed, ‘communication’ came first with 11 mentions, followed by inter-personal skills/confidence with 7. Patience, time management, team working and creativity were also common answers, with one or two people mentioning leadership, research and customer service.
Looking at the top three answers more closely, one should note that they are all multi-purpose and transferable skills. It is true of volunteering that not everyone can find a placement in their given field. What they can gain however, are these all important skills that all employers look for, regardless of the nature of the job itself.
What can we learn about these answers and what do they tell us about the nature of student volunteering? Perhaps the most important lesson to understand here is that students choose to volunteer for a number of reasons, but see employability as a particular area of importance. Having said that, it can be inferred that what keeps students coming back to any particular voluntary placement is the experience they have while they’re there. If it’s fun, interesting and full of new people then students will want to volunteer for you. This makes volunteering inherently different from internships and work placements as it gives students a choice, offering flexibility and variety. And this is ultimately what volunteering is about. Choosing what works for you and having the option of exploring as many opportunities as you like.