Lessons in the not for profit sector

Sometimes what you think you’re going to learn from an experience ends up being quite different from what you actually learn.

When I applied to volunteer at the Trussell Trust, it was partly because I wanted find out what it would be like to work within the not for profit sector, as I’ve been contemplating a career change for some time. On paper, the Trussell Trust ticked all the right boxes. Their head office is a convenient commute from Southampton, it’s a medium sized organisation (after ten years, I’ve finally realised being a teeny cog in a giant organisational wheel doesn’t suit me) and, most importantly, I’m completely behind their mission to tackle UK poverty.

After a few charity job searches online, it had become apparent that a) a large number of charity jobs are based in London, and b) many of them involve fundraising and/or sitting in an office all day. I was hoping that by volunteering at Trussell I would be able to get behind the scenes and uncover a raft of other potential non London, non office based jobs that I could pursue in the future. As it happens, I spent most of my first day with Trussell’s fundraising team listening to the conversations going on, observing what people were doing, and thinking ‘Hmm, this could be any office in any organisation anywhere in the world’.

It goes without saying that no organisation can function without people whose jobs involve emails, spreadsheets and Word documents. And without their hard working fundraising team, the Trussell Trust wouldn’t be able to reach the amount of people it does. Fundraisers may well feel that same glow of achievement when they’ve secured backing for a project as I do when I teach students something and they understand it. But personally, I need to be doing something practical and tangible to feel like I’m having an impact, and to combine routine, office based tasks with creative and people focused ones.

So lesson number one has been just because you work for a charity, doesn’t automatically mean you feel like you’re making a difference. That’s been a pretty important realisation for me. Lesson number two has been unless you happen to be a social worker of some description, there’s no getting around the fact that charity work generally involves sitting at a desk. Unless you’re somebody important, in which case it involves sitting at a desk, but only when you’re not in meetings.

As they say, knowing what you don’t like and don’t want helps you define what it is you do want, and volunteering at the Trussell Trust has helped to me build a much clearer picture of where it is I should head next. I’m always meeting people who have had what I call ‘previous lives’; jobs unrelated to what they are currently doing, which I find fascinating. I think there’s a lot to be said for evolving and moving forward in new directions… using the skills and experiences you already have to help you get there.

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