Making time for voluntary work (or not?).
In this episode, Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to an excellent question from copywriter Lucette Funnell.
“I’ve been approached by a local charity about a volunteer position. I’m interested in what they’re doing and definitely feel I could add value. But where on earth would I find the time?!
And as a chronic overthinker who always ends up taking longer than planned to do everything… And who already has a list as long as my arm of things to do for my own business… How would I keep it to just 3-4 hours a week?
Will it add value? Or would I be better off working on marketing my business/ exercising/ making lunches that aren’t biscuits or toast?”
Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.
Here’s what was said in this episode:
Comments on the previous episode:
[00:01:05] – Frankie
Hello. You’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.
[00:01:15] – Steve
Hello! Yes. Each episode, we take a question from the Doing It For The Kids community. Do our best to answer it.
Our answer to this week's question:
[00:05:33] – Steve
We’ve got a question from Lucette Funnell, who is a copywriter at Birdsong Copywriting Birdsongcopywriting.co.uk.
“I’ve been approached by a local charity about a volunteer position. I’m interested in what they’re doing and definitely feel I could add value. But where on earth would I find the time? And as a chronic overthinker who always ends up taking longer than planned to do everything and who already has a list as long as my arm of things to do for my own business, how would I keep it to just three to 4 hours a week? Will it add value? Or would I be better off working on marketing my business/exercising/making lunches that aren’t biscuits or toast?”
So there you go. So Lucette is interested in volunteering three to 4 hours a week, but where on earth would she find the time?
[00:06:29] – Frankie
Annoyingly, she doesn’t say what the voluntary position is. Presumably she’d be doing copywriting for them — would she? I don’t know. That’s a good point, actually, because…
[00:06:39] – Steve
Yeah, I feel like that’s a good question.
[00:06:41] – Frankie
…if she is just doing copywriting for them, is it that the benefit to her is feeling good by supporting their cause? Because she doesn’t need copywriting experience because that’s her job, right? If the voluntary position is going to build her skills in something else, like teach her something that she doesn’t already do or does a bit of and wants to get experience in, then that’s a totally different proposition, I think. Not to say that there isn’t value in just doing it because you want to support the work that they’re doing.
[00:07:11] – Steve
Yeah. And likewise, the volunteering could be spending 3 to 4 hours digging a garden and planting trees.
[00:07:17] – Frankie
I’d do that. That’s my kind of volunteering!
Yeah. Does that sort of situation have a benefit in that it’s a personal benefit, it’s good for her mental health or it keeps her fit to go out and do the thing like planting a community garden or whatever? So I guess it’s about weighing up which of those things you’re interested in and whether it is therefore worth finding the time. Because it sounds like finding time is going to be difficult.
[00:07:41] – Steve
I’m all for volunteering. Well, and actually I would say that what I’ve done with Being Freelance, and you’ve done with Doing It For The Kids — that is volunteering. As in, we spent years doing it, not getting paid. But you find the time because you see the value that you and others get from it.
And I do feel like if you can see the value in it and you want to do it, then you will find the time. But it is definitely harder to find time. There are definitely compromises when your business is young and your children are young in particular. Those two things in particular. And so, yeah, it’s then over to you to decide — do I want to make that sacrifice in order to do that thing? Or will I come back to this, I don’t know, three years down the line? When my business is older, when my kids are older, and I have a bit more flexibility in my life to be able to volunteer.
[00:08:39] – Frankie
Yes, because that’s how… I don’t want to say it, but that’s how I feel about the PSA! Classic example of volunteering your time, right? When a few of my mates, when my son started school, were immediately like, “yes, I’m going to volunteer with the PSA”, I was like, “no, I’m not going to volunteer with PSA. This is not the right time in my life”. To be doing that wouldn’t have been good for me. It would have been one thing too many and ultimately you need to look after it yourself.
So, yeah, is it the sort of thing where you can say, “I would love to do that, but can I do that in 18 months time when my youngest starts nursery? Or can I do that in three years time when both my children are at school?” I don’t want anybody to listen to this and feel like, “oh, I should also be volunteering. That’s another thing for my list in life that I should be doing!”
No. But if Lucette’s at the right stage and she can see the benefit for various reasons to either herself or her business, then like you say Steve, you will find the time if you’re passionate enough about it or you see the benefit enough.
And also, I imagine with something like a voluntary position, if it doesn’t work out and you don’t have the time, in reality, you can just stop. They can’t really argue with that, can they?
[00:09:47] – Steve
No. I’ve spoken to some people for the Being Freelance podcast who sort of justify that time, like doing things for free or for a charity. Sometimes they’re like, “okay, well, I really believe in that thing, therefore I just want to give my time”. Plan number one might be, “yes, I will give my time, but also I’m going to use this as a chance to experiment in a new thing”.
So for a photographer, it might be a new style of photography. Maybe they’ve not done drone photography before. So it’s kind of like building your portfolio in a direction that you want to push it. Nobody’s paid you for that work yet, but here’s a chance to do it. Or you think, “okay, well, there’s so many connections within this charity that actually, word of mouth wise, maybe my name will spread? And also they look great on my portfolio because they’re a really well respected charity” or whatever. So I’m not saying that you always have to get something out of it, because you can get something out of it just by being a nice person and contributing to society, clearly. But if you’re volunteering the skill that you normally get paid for, then there might be those things to think about.
And there’s probably a question to raise about if you’re giving up your copywriting time to this charity, should you invoice them for it? But then zero out the invoice so you tell them how much it’s actually worth and then put the discount on it? Because that way the people who work for the charity, if they ever are recommending you, will know that actually there is a value to what you give and therefore, “oh yeah, well, Lucette does this thing for us for free. She volunteers, of course, but I know she does it for a job you could hire”.
Do you see there is a difference there? So there’s a value that they see if you put it in an invoice.
[00:11:36] – Frankie
And also they’re less likely to muck you around if they have a real understanding of how much your time is worth. There might be less of the like, “can we just do, you know, version 17.69752” or whatever, there might be less of that.
It’s a good point about connections. I hadn’t really thought about that. Because even if she is just doing copywriting as the thing she’s volunteering — is it going to open doors for her in an industry she’s interested in working with more? Maybe Lucette’s been doing copywriting for a long time and is looking to niche down into something. Say she wants to go into working with, I don’t know, businesses with… I was going to say, ‘purpose’ but every business has a purpose! You know, businesses with the more worthy cause. Maybe she wants to go and work with people talking about climate change or sustainability or whatever. She wants to niche down in that respect. So maybe working with a charity who’s doing that sort of work and churning out messages around climate change all the time would be beneficial to her. It would help her move into that realm.
But crucially, it cannot be at the expense of your own business. It has to be the right balance. You’ve still got to make money and you’ve still got to be sustainable. I think limiting your time is important, both in terms of what you commit to a week, a month, but also how long you commit.
Can you say, “I’m willing to do this, but only for six months, and maybe we can review it at the end of that period” or even talk to them about flexible working and be like, “some weeks I’m not going to be able to do this because I’ve got paid client priorities. And how do you feel about me giving you a 48 hours heads up or whatever it is?” It depends what the job is, doesn’t it? But just being open with them and they can’t expect too much of you if it’s a voluntary role. Maybe I’m being naive, I don’t know.
[00:13:24] – Steve
There’s a lot of questions as to what we don’t know about this. You could volunteer to work in a charity shop and you’re going to give them 2 hours every Wednesday afternoon. Whereas if you’re offering to redo their website and you’re doing copywriting for them or for their leaflets or their newsletters or whatever they’ve come to you for, then you do kind of need to treat it like a client even if you’re not being paid, so that you know you’re only giving them 2 hours or 3 hours or 4 hours. Because 4 hours of your week is a lot!
[00:14:00] – Frankie
Yeah, it is.
[00:14:01] – Steve
You’re saying 3 to 4 hours a week is a lot and it’s fine if you want to give that. But in terms of limiting it, you kind of do need to think of them as a client. In fact, to be fair, just like Frankie and I treat Being Freelance or Doing It For The Kids like a client. You know, sometimes people say, “oh, how did you keep putting out that podcast when we used to do it so regularly?” It’s because we treated it like a client. We were like, “well, we’ve got a deadline, we’ve got to get it out. We’re going to always be there on a Monday to record, the Thursday to put it out”. Treating it like a client also means that you only give it so much time.
[00:14:39] – Frankie
I also think there’s something to be said for doing voluntary work and making that visible to your children. Modeling that not all work has to be paid for and doing stuff for a good cause is still worth doing. I say that as somebody who does no voluntary work, but I think there are some important lessons about being a nice human that you can teach your children by doing voluntary work. Basically, again, I don’t want to guilt trip anybody into feel that they should be doing that!
[00:15:07] – Steve
Yeah, I totally agree. I am all for volunteering and the world is a better place because of it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always right for us to do certain things at certain times. And just because you see other people doing it, their situation is different.
But if it sounds like you really want to do it, Lucette… If it is related to copywriting, then I’m sure you’ll find a good way to do it. And if it’s not, then that can be really great as well. A bit like the painting the fence is quite a meditative thing to do? It’s good to do things which aren’t to do with our business. It can be so possible just to think about our kids and just to think about our businesses. So actually to be out doing a litter pick or to work in the community orchard or whatever it is that you might do…
[00:15:53] – Frankie
…community orchard?? That sounds nice.
[00:15:55] – Steve
Yeah, we’ve got one. It’s quite a cool idea, isn’t it?
Yeah. Or like delivering Meals on Wheels or whatever it might be. And as you say, showing our kids what a great thing it is to be part of community in that way.
And I would say, Frankie, you have volunteered lots of your time over the years. It’s just that it’s Doing It For The Kids. It’s a different kind of community that you have given your time and energy to.