My Experience of Volunteering

We’re often told how beneficial volunteering can be, especially for gaining experience and improving CVs. In my first year of university I volunteered at a local museum, helping to record and catalogue artefacts in the social history collection. I thought I’d share my experience here, and hopefully provide some helpful tips.

How did I get this opportunity?
The Curator of Collections at this particular museum took part in a humanities careers conference at my University, along with representatives from other sectors such as teaching and retail. After the panel, I simply approached the Curator to talk about possible volunteering opportunities.
I had previously tried to volunteer at another museum, but with no success, which provided me with a great conversation starter. We briefly talked about her role at the museum and what cataloguing the social history artefacts consisted of, before she gave me her card and told me to contact her about volunteering opportunities.
I realise that there is a large amount of ‘right place, right time’ in my experience, however I wouldn’t have known that that was the case unless I put myself forward. I imagine searching for volunteering opportunities as being similar to the life of an actor; you’re going to get a fair amount of rejection, but then one day you’ll get your foot in the door!

What did it involve?
One Thursday a week, I would spend the day in the museum stores sorting through boxes of artefacts ranging from large collections of lace bobbins, to an Edwardian board game in which players would have to deliver letters to different addresses in the city. I worked with the Curator herself and a team of other volunteers, and the role was very hands on, there was no endless tea making!
Every session I would work on a different part of the process. One week I would locate the boxes and unpack the artefacts, the next I could be taking photographs to document them and the next imputing the items’ information into a spreadsheet.  Although it doesn’t sound it, these volunteering sessions were actually extremely fun and a highlight of my first year!

What did I gain?
The most valuable element of my volunteering has been the experience. I got to spend time with some great people every week, improving my teamwork and interpersonal skills. I learnt about the basic structure of a museum store and how a cataloguing system worked, as well as having an invaluable insight to the inner workings of a museum.
Overall, while it’s a great addition to my CV, my volunteering experience was what I made of it. I used the opportunity to step it outside my comfort zone, make contacts with those in the field and to gain ‘soft skills’ that can’t be learnt in classroom.

Top Tips
– The worst anyone can say is ‘we’re not taking any volunteers right now’. Don’t take it personally, just keep on trying!
– Be open minded. Some places are going to get more interest than others, keep your options open and apply to lots of places.
– Be proactive! Getting in contact with where you want to volunteer, especially when they haven’t specifically advertised for volunteers, shows that you’re serious about working for them.
– Stay positive! If you’re experience doesn’t live up to your expectations, don’t write it off completely. You will have still gained experience and skills, even if you didn’t realise it.

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