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As this week is National Volunteers Week, I thought it was appropriate and entirely necessary to share my thoughts on the benefits of volunteering and my personal views and experiences on how it can help develop you not only professionally but personally too.

When people think of the word ‘volunteering’ they have a tendency to think of working in a charity shop, or cleaning up a council estate or even litter picking after an event. All of which, to me, sound rather unappealing and definitely not something I’d want to do after a hard day at work! It’s easy to see why in the past, volunteering is thought of as a past time for the retired, ‘do-gooders’ with nothing better to fill their time. However, in the current economic climate, volunteering is becoming almost a necessary for those coming out of university who lack the work experience employers require. And businesses are starting to recognise this. The number of volunteer positions and unpaid internships has exploded in the last year since the claws of the recession have started to impact on organisational structures. More and more employers are unable to keep hold of paid staff and are instead looking to get help from eager and willing volunteers. So instead of litter picking, you could be working on a marketing strategy for a festival, implementing a social media presence or even working on a sponsorship bid.

As a seasoned volunteer I have lent myself to pretty much anything and everything events related around Manchester and tried to get as much variation as possible in the kind of organisations and projects that I work for. My most recent project has been working with the Hungry Pigeon Festival on their online marketing by promoting the event through Twitter. This involved tweeting both on the run up to the event and then throughout the festival itself, keeping people up to date on what was happening at the various venues. This was a great project to be involved with – I got a free wristband for the weekend, so got to see loads of amazing up and coming bands but also met some great people involved in the organisation, who are good to know as contacts for events in the future.

I’m also currently working as an event planner for the Waterways Trust organising their annual Rochdale Canal Festival. This involves working with councils, canal societies and local tourist boards to put on events and activities for a week long festival at the end of July over a 30 mile stretch of canal, starting in Manchester City Centre and ending in Hebden Bridge. I have to contact multiple venues and organisations, think of ideas for events and help market them. I’m given a lot of responsibility and have a budget of thousands of pounds to work with – not something you would think a volunteer would get to do! The benefits professionally for me are obvious, I’m getting experience at producing a multi-venued event with a fairly large budget and making contacts with lots of high up employees in the public and private sector along the way! And yet at first glance if I told someone I was committing one day a week to organising a canal festival they may question my motives.

This weekend I attended a conference in Birmingham for Oxjam Music Festival, the latest of my volunteering ventures and definitely the one I’m most excited about. My role as Fundraising Co-ordinator involves organising fundraising events over the summer to raise money for the main Oxjam Takeover event in October, as well as getting sponsorship for the event and promoting the event and it’s cause. I’m working with a great set of people and we’ve got some excellent ideas for the events so it’s a really exciting project to be involved with. The conference was a great chance to meet some of the other oxjam teams from around the country and swap ideas about our events. We were lucky enough to get some great guest speakers from the industry talking to us about their experiences and see some amazing videos showing the kind of development work Oxfam are doing in places like Mali amongst others and where the money we raise from the events will go.

So you see, there’s so many great volunteering opportunities out there it’d be stupid not to get involved in them! Whether you want to gain experience within a certain field, make contacts with people in your chosen industry, showcase your talents or even to just meet new people in your area, there’s a volunteer position out there for everyone. With the job market the way it is at the moment, you have to make yourself stand out from the crowd. I for one think that volunteering gives you the opportunity to do this whilst being really enjoyable and worthwhile at the same time.

If you’re interested in finding out more about volunteering, a good place to find out about current opportunities in your area is www.vinspired.com.