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Why it’s a great time to try volunteering

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Published: 07 Nov 2020

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Volunteering offers opportunities for you to give something back and develop much sought-after professional skills in the process. It all boils down to finding the right opportunity for you

Despite the pandemic, the opportunities to give up some of your free time for the benefit of others are bountiful. Indeed, the current economic uncertainty is likely to drive up demand for volunteers.

So why is volunteering such a good idea?

Volunteering offers vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes and the community. But giving up your time for others is far more than altruistic. According to the Mental Health Foundation, volunteering can promote positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness. 

Volunteering can also be a great way to broaden your skillset, plug skills gaps on your CV and demonstrate much sought-after competencies to future employers if you have been made redundant or are looking for a training agreement, says James Brent, a director at recruiter Hays Accountancy & Finance. “You might pick up communication, listening, problem-solving and leadership skills, which are highly transferable and beneficial to your overall career.” 

Liz Sebag-Montefiore, career coach and Director of 10Eighty, says taking on a voluntary role can also help you learn about yourself and understand your values, motivation, skills, and interests, and gives you a chance to find out how other people view you and your strengths.

In addition to honing new skills, the right volunteering match can help you to find friends, connect with the community and ultimately help you advance your career as a chartered accountant by expanding your network, Brent adds.

Where do I start?

Our 500 hours campaign is tapping into the collective desire among students and members to give something back while at the same time helping to broaden the understanding of chartered accountants among students at schools and universities. 

With the ongoing pandemic, ICAEW is working hard to ensure students from all backgrounds have equal access to careers education and we need your help to do it. Collectively, ICAEW has set a target of 500 hours of volunteering to schools and universities across the UK in the 2020/21 academic year donated by fellow members and students. 

There are a range of opportunities for you to get involved in, from participating in mentoring programmes and careers fairs to delivering presentations to students about your career to date or the realities of working and studying for the ACA, or becoming a champion of diversity for your region.

For the foreseeable future, all ICAEW volunteering opportunities will be completed virtually as per government guidelines and we will provide you with all the support and resources you need. “By donating just one to two hours of your time to local schools and universities, you’ll be giving back to your local community and making a crucial impact on the future of the profession by inspiring the next generation of ICAEW Chartered Accountants,” explains Katherine Rose, ICAEW Marketing Manager, Volunteers.

Try our student societies

ICAEW’s student societies – regional groups of trainee Chartered Accountants run by student committees – present another great opportunity to volunteer. The societies organise a range of relevant professional and social events, revision sessions and networking opportunities designed to ease you through your ACA training experience.

Kathryn Mansell ACA, now a corporate finance senior at advisory firm Old Mill, spent three years volunteering with her local student society in the South West, including two years as chairman. “I started out as a firm representative; essentially a sounding board for students to the committee on the events we ran,” Mansell explains.

Mansell says the connections and insight into the wider ICAEW committees and groups have been really valuable, together with the sense of giving back and engaging with those starting their accounting careers. “Having been on the journey, I can appreciate how daunting it can be,” she adds. “What you know is only part of the challenge. At a time when things are so uncertain it can give you the confidence to strike up a conversation about the broader career opportunities available to them.”

Professionally too, Mansell also believes giving up two to three hours a month for the student society has undoubtedly benefited her enormously, not least in terms of public speaking, access to senior members of the profession and development of soft skills including leadership and communication. “I would recommend it to anyone,” Mansell adds. “If you have time to give, you’d be welcomed with open arms.”

“To find the right opportunity for you, think about what you're passionate about and what makes you tick,” Sebag-Montefiore adds. “To make the most of the experience, try to get as involved in the organisation as you possibly can; tell people what your strengths are and what you like doing, but also tell them what skills you're keen to develop that you can't currently do in your role back at work. It's a win-win experience!”

Andy Stephens ACA, director of finance at Loughborough University, is more than familiar with the benefits of volunteering. Not only is he the treasurer of Trent District Community First Responders, [http://trentcfr.co.uk/] but he is also one of their first responders providing first-on-the-scene incident support pending the arrival of ambulance crews.

“It’s a great test of communication skills because you’re dealing with people who are often distressed, confused, or there may be cultural barriers,” Stephens explains. “I’m so used to being the boss in my day job, it’s grounding! At the same time, it’s exciting and interesting and this is a chance for me to give something back.”

Volunteering for something you feel passionately about is key, Stephens adds. “Don’t just do it for your CV or you won’t stick with it and it won’t be genuine.” And be realistic about the time you can commit, he adds, particularly if you’re studying for your ACA exams and working at the same time. “Lots of people might think of volunteering for a big national charity but keeping it small and local means the difference you can make will be huge.”

To find out more about ICAEW’s 500 hours initiative and to register as a volunteer go to icaew.com/volunteers or email Katherine.rose@icaew.com or to get involved in your local student society, contact mauro.lucrino@icaew.com or visit this site.