Claire Schnellmann, currently works as a primary teacher part-time, volunteers locally with her 9 month daughter once a week, and is the founder of the online network ‘Contributing with Children‘ which celebrates and promotes voluntary and paid opportunities which parents can do with their children.

About nine months ago I was seeking for opportunities to volunteer whilst on maternity leave.
There are some amazing local organisations supporting peoples’ needs, and making positive change in the area which I wanted to be involved in. Having daytime availability gave me an opportunity I’d never had before and I wanted to make full use of it. The responsibility of caring for my daughter meant it clearly wasn’t ‘free’ time, but I explained through email that I wanted to bring my baby daughter along with me.

Here are some lessons I learnt along the way about how to look for and choose an opportunity.

1) Think carefully about the cause you want to support

    • Is there something about your local area which upsets you as you walk or drive past?
    • Is there a community or demographic who reside in your area that you’d like to know better and build connections among?
    • Is there a particular solution that you believe would really address injustices that you’re aware of?

If so, then figure out which organisations to partner with based on that. Your passion and commitment to a cause is a much bigger asset to a voluntary organisation that any availability, skills or experiences you bring. Even if you cannot volunteer on this occasion, making a connection with those who are currently making a difference is a positive step overall.

Sometimes it is the same passion and concern which may have led you into teaching that you find leads you towards certain organisations. It may also be a completely different need or demographic, and that’s also perfectly ok. My own voluntary opportunity was a very local cause which I thought would be a complete contrast to teaching, but the more involved I get it the more I see the overlap!

2) Explain your situation but be open-minded

Send an email, explain who you are, why you’re interested in volunteering now, and roughly how much time you have to give.
A bit of research into a charity or group will be useful, you may be able to refer to tasks or specific areas that you’d be most interested in support, although it’s not always obvious from the outside how you could be used most effectively. Sometimes needs emerge or change quickly, and therefore being flexible is really helpful.
The choice between different organisations then becomes clearer based on who responds and what opportunities they have.

3) If you are looking for some form of professional learning, be patient

Whatever you do, you will learn something. Meeting and engaging with individual people and those volunteering or working for a charitable organisation will expand your experience. It is possible that the organisation will give you some training before or during your role. Mine did, and it was certainly helpful in progressing my understanding of mental health and anxiety (something spoken about often in school but I don’t remember much training).

Being present and proactive will be your best approach. Ask about upcoming campaigns or fundraisers, ask about the organisation’s future plans. You might just find that there are skills you have already which are useful in a non-educational context, or you might find your availability and capacity allows you to take on something that you have no previous experience of.

You often won’t be able to say what you’ll gain at the beginning, but only upon reflection afterwards. Isn’t that a bit similar to any professional learning opportunity or role? Often did I think I would gain certain skills and knowledge but my strongest memories and learning are of something else entirely!