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Getting Involved

One of the most effective ways to create more inclusive and diverse communities is for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (and people from other marginalised groups) to become more involved in public life. Giving your time as a volunteer can be extremely worthwhile and rewarding.

On this page:

What is volunteering?
Why should you consider becoming a volunteer?
Who can become a volunteer?
How do you find out about volunteering opportunities?
Other things to consider

Sharing your skills, helping people, working as part of a team or improving your local area, there are opportunities to suit almost everyone! This guide contains just some examples of ways to become involved in your local community. Some of these examples give details of different volunteering roles within organisations (like Friends of the Earth, Scottish Refugee Council or Citizens Advice Bureau). There are also examples of other ways to become more active in public life, perhaps through getting involved with your trade union, joining your community council or getting elected onto the Parent-Teacher Association at your child’s school. However there are some things that you should think about before deciding what type of opportunity is right for you.

What is volunteering?

Volunteering is simply working without payment, or working for minimal expenses. Most volunteering opportunities are in voluntary and community organisations and charities. However, there are some parts of the public sector, for example the NHS, that also use volunteers.

So, what are the facts about volunteering?

  • around 41% of the population does some form of volunteering each year
  • about 25% of the people who volunteer in Scotland are involved with a public body, for example the local authority or the NHS
  • although it is difficult to attach an exact value to the wide range of volunteering activity that takes place, it is estimated that volunteers provide £12 billion of free work each year
  • results from First Out (Beyond Barriers (UK) national survey of LGBT people) showed that 31% of LGBT people would consider become more involved in their local community

    Why should you consider becoming a volunteer?

  • Most people volunteer because they want to “give something back” to society by making a contribution in their local area, to help a cause they believe in, or to change the way things happen for the better.

  • The majority of volunteers say that the experience brings them new skills, a chance to meet new people and an increased level of confidence and sense of belonging in their community.

  • Volunteering is a practical way to feel part of your community, including your LGBT community. The LGBT voluntary sector presents an enormous range of opportunities to get involved. There is something to suit everyone, from social groups to counselling services.

  • Volunteering is an ideal way to gain valuable experience in an area in which you might want to seek employment in the future.

  • Some large organisations offer volunteers the chance to undertake training and gain qualifications, such as SVQs.

    Many LGBT people who volunteer within the LGBT community have said that their sense of their own identity has been strengthened and they feel a greater sense of pride about who they are.

    Who can become a volunteer?

    Anyone can become a volunteer. The trick is matching your interests, skills and availability to organisations that need help.

    As an LGBT person you can volunteer with:

    A mainstream group – for example one that works with the general community on issues relating to youth, the environment and older people

  • the advantages can include feeling part of the overall community and helping make the group or community become more inclusive

  • the disadvantages can include being one of the very few LGBT volunteers

    An LGBT group – for example one that works on LGBT-related health, youth or parenting issues.

  • the advantages can include working in a safe, “LGBT-friendly” environment and having the support of an organisation in challenging the prejudices of mainstream society rather than doing it as an individual

  • the disadvantages can include feeling isolated from mainstream society

  • People who work full-time can still volunteer for organisations that need volunteers outside office hours, such as ChildLine or a local gay Switchboard, working with homeless people or with environmental projects.

  • Volunteers who come into contact with children or vulnerable people have to undergo a criminal records check. Many organisations will welcome people who have had a caution or conviction but opportunities may be restricted if you have been convicted of a serious offence or have a recent record of offending. It is best to have a confidential conversation with a volunteer co-ordinator if you fall into any of these categories.

  • Volunteering may or may not require you to be publicly “out”. For example, if you are the spokesperson for an LGBT youth group, it is likely that you will be expected to talk openly about your own sexual identity. However, if you are delivering meals or leafleting for an HIV organisation, you would only have to be “out” if you wanted. It is important to think about what types of group it is and how “out” you want to be.

    How do you find out about volunteering opportunities?

    This guide gives an introduction to some of the opportunities that are out there. Each example has contact details for appropriate organisations. However, if you want to find out about other opportunities there are a number of ways that you can try, to help you to find the volunteering role that is right for you.

  • Contact the Volunteer Centre
    If you are interested in volunteering in your local community, one of the best places to find out about opportunities is through your local volunteer centre. Volunteer centres or bureaux work with local organisations to help them to find volunteers, holding information about volunteering opportunities on their database. When you visit the volunteer centre they will talk to you about what you want to do, how much time you have to spare and so on, and will help you to identify opportunities that suit you. They should be able to answer any questions you may have about volunteering, support you when you contact organisations and help you to decide what opportunities are right for you.

  • Ask a friend
    Another key way of searching is through word of mouth. This is one of the main ways that volunteers are recruited. If someone enjoys their voluntary experience they tell their friends and family about it. So, you should consider speaking to your friends, family and work colleagues about their experiences of volunteering.

  • Contact the organisation
    You could also contact an organisation directly to find out if they recruit volunteers or if they have any volunteer vacancies. This will give you a chance to talk to the organisation about their policies and their commitment to creating a LGBT friendly working environment.

    Other things to consider

  • Why do you want to do voluntary work?
    Is it because you have time to spare, would like to make new friends, want to improve your local area or environment, would like to develop new skills and gain experience, or have skills that you would like to share?

  • How much time can you spare?
    Can you make a regular commitment of a few hours or a day each week, are you looking for a more sporadic commitment or do you want something that is more short term (e.g. seasonal work)?

  • Working with people
    Do you prefer to work as part of a group, on a one-to-one basis or would you prefer to work alone?

  • What are your passions?
    Thinking about the issues that you feel passionately about may help you to decide the type of voluntary work that is right for you. Do you care about the environment? Do you want to work to improve your local community, making it a safer place? Do you want to help and support other people through voluntary work? Do you want to work specifically with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organisations, or would you like to work with asylum seekers and refugees, young people or homeless people?

  • What skills do you have?
    Do you have any specific skills that you would like to use in a voluntary capacity or are there any skills or experience that you would like to gain?

  • Being open about your identity
    Are you ready to be out about your lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identity? Do you have any fears about coming out? Does the organisation you are interested in volunteering with have a diversity policy or a volunteer policy that covers discrimination on the grounds of sexual or transgender identity? What reasons do you have for being out, or not being out?

    Once you have decided on the type of voluntary work you want to get involved in, or you have found a specific volunteer opportunity that suits you, there are a few questions that you should consider asking.

  • Will you have a job description?
    Ask for a clear description of the work you that will be expected to do.

  • Will you receive support and supervision?
    Will you receive support and supervision in your volunteer work? Who will show you what to do and offer you support? Will you receive supervision sessions or will it be less formal than that? Is there a designated person that you can talk to about difficulties or problems you are facing or if you are unable to come in that week?

  • Insurance
    Does the organisation have insurance (usually employers liability insurance or public liability insurance) that covers volunteers? If you will be a volunteer driver, will you need to tell your car insurance company?

  • Expenses
    As a volunteer you should never be out of pocket for the work you are doing. The organisation that you will be working with should be able to reimburse any travel, lunch or childcare expenses that you incur.

  • Your time
    How often will you be expected to work and for how many hours each time?

  • Training
    Will you have access to relevant training? Will you be trained in the use of any special equipment, and will protective clothing be provided (if appropriate)? Are you prepared to undergo training if the work requires it?

  • Policies
    Does the organisation have an equality or diversity policy that covers lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people? Does their equality policy apply to everyone within the organisation (paid workers, volunteers, service users, etc)? Do they have an up-to-date volunteer policy? Are there any procedures in place to cover disciplinary and grievance issues?

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