11 truths of life as a volunteer

Ever wondered what it’s really like to be a volunteer for Amnesty International? Amnesty Australia Community Organiser Amanda Atlee gives a rundown of what you can expect as a new volunteer in the charity sector. 

1. It’s a whole new world

An animated gif of a scene from the Disney movie 'Aladdin'. The gif shows characters Aladdin and Jasmine flying through the air on a magic carpet surrounded by birds flying around them.

Beginning a new volunteer role is equal parts exciting and terrifying. You have no idea what it is going to be like. Even though you have read the Role Requirements we all know that volunteering can take you on a whole bunch of twists and turns. Often you will be doing things you never expected!

Volunteering for me has been probably one of the best experiences in the last few years. It has really brought me out of my shell and shown me what I can achieve when I put my mind to it.

– Losa Morrison, QLD LGBTQI Network Convener

2. I know exactly what I’m doing…

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© Gfycat

So much is going on! You have been shown a bunch of documents that you are likely to never find again. You forget everyone’s names and you are just trying to get by.

There’s not really a standard day for me – I’m doing a lot of things that change every day.

– Emily Obrien, NSW Community Organising Intern

3. I should have taken that job at Apple

A gif of a woman typing at a computer and pulling a funny face. This is a scene from a UK comedy television show called 'Black Books'.
© Giphy

The patience of volunteers is tested on a daily basis by prehistoric computers or photocopiers that like to jam! No matter how many times you desperately press keys, click on icons or shout profanities sometimes you just need to sit back and breathe. Or better yet, grab a coffee.

4. Go team!

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One of the best parts of volunteering is being constantly inspired by the people around you. You get to meet and work with some incredibly clever and committed people.

For me it’s actually been a really great social venture – able to make a lot of really good friends who I still hang out with outside of Amnesty.

– Dorothy Tran, NSW Branch Committee Member

Volunteering at Amnesty you feel like you’re a part of a great big team whose knowledge, connections and work you can harness.

– Emma Allen, VIC LGBTQI Network Convener

5. Someone asks you why you don’t get a ‘real job’

An animated gif of US talk show host Conan O'Brien covering his eyes and shaking his head whilst interviewing a guest who is sitting off-camera.

There are many reasons why volunteers drag themselves out of bed and it is definitely not for the money or the glory.

For some, it’s the feeling that you’re doing something good in the world; that you’re giving back to the community. For others it is trying to learn more, develop skills and establish networks in the hope that someday, somewhere, you will be able to get paid for doing this work that you love so much. But above all, volunteers believe in what they’re doing. That is why 6.4 million people throughout Australia choose to volunteer.

6. Uh-oh!

An animated gif of a cartoon penguin disappearing down a hole and waving its hands in front of its face as if to say 'Nothing to see here'.

Accidentally sent an email to the entire address book? Didn’t BCC hundreds of contacts? Put a kiss after your name on an email to the Director? The look of absolute horror on the faces of volunteers and interns is comical.

Don’t worry it happens to everyone!

7. How do I answer the phone here?

An animated gif of Dory from the animation film 'Finding Nemo' with a speech bubble next to her asking: 'Where am I?'
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Volunteers are often multitasking a range of responsibilities. Students who volunteer for us are usually balancing studying with part time work. For others, it may mean juggling full time work and family commitments and fitting in a few hours each week to give back to their community. So it’s no surprise when some volunteers are confused about what to do when the phone rings. How do I greet people on this thing, again!?

I’m a Computer Programmer and when I’m not at Amnesty I’m at home gardening, working or spending time with my wife.

– Paul Toner, Ipswitch Group

I’m studying postgrad at RMIT. I work as a Communications Manager and in my spare time I volunteer for Amnesty and Transgender Victoria.

– Jade Peters, VIC LGBTQI Network Convener

8. So much information

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Whether it is developing skills in research, mail merge or event promotion, volunteering gives you hands-on experience in an area you are passionate about. You could use these new skills to bolster your resume or to organise your personal life. The possibilities are endless!

Volunteering gets you outside of your comfort zone and you learn a bunch of new things. It really makes you stretch yourself and enables you to decide how you really feel about this issue or that issue. It’s a bit of hands on time to really get in there and make a bit of change. I think everyone should volunteer.

– Lindsay Jenkins, SA ARTillery Coordinator

This is a great chance to expand my skills and gain valuable experience, and to do it with an organisation whose goals I support and whose work I love.

– Emma Allen, VIC LGBTQI Network Convener

9. Free food

An animated gif of a group of Corgis (dogs) running into the kitchen for food.
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As soon as an office email circulates mentioning there is cake in the kitchen there is a stampede of volunteers, interns and staff. With any offering of free lunch, cake or coffee you pretend you don’t want to take it but really it’s one of the highlights of your day.

10. Woo!

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The indescribable feeling when you get a win – you finally finished that project, your funding proposal was approved, you convinced someone to sign your petition or you had a conversation with someone who cares. It makes it all worthwhile.

I was once able to sit in on a video conference with a women’s rights leader from Afghanistan and hearing about the impact of Amnesty International’s work over there was really really inspiring and makes me want to keep going.

– Amy Thomas, Youth Advisory Group and QUT Group

I love going out to schools and talking to young people about human rights. It’s great when they are asking questions and really engaged in the discussion. It feels good to know that young people care about these things.

– Andrew Beaton, WA Schools Coordinator

11. When a new round of volunteers start

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By now you are so wise. You have entirely forgotten your initial anxiety and doubt. Now you’re the one making the documents and processes, introducing people and helping to support the newbies. You are the Yoda (or Pei Mei) of volunteers.

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Amanda Atlee is the NSW Community Organiser at Amnesty International