We asked Worthwhile alum Catherine how she went from student volunteer to senior manager at a small charity. Here are her thoughts.
Worthwhile asked me, why do you do your job? The simplest answer is that I was a keen-bean social action volunteer throughout my time at university and then at some point in my final year, someone (Worthwhile) told me that I could have a job in it. That first step was a natural progression for me. I think the more interesting question is why have I kept at it?
I’m happily surprised that four years into my career at the same organisation, I still find energy for work in surprising places and still, ultimately, want to be doing my job. Spoiler: that doesn’t mean that some days I’m not shattered or frustrated or stuck on challenges that seem unsolvable. Even so, this is why I do what I do:
- Sometimes I do it because I want to be useful. This is how I fell (slightly accidentally) into a career in the charity sector. I couldn’t think of a job that I really wanted. When I was at secondary school, and deciding where to do work experience, I knew that there were ‘problems in the world’ and figured that I might as well spend my time doing something helpful until I worked out whether I wanted to be a location scout/pilot/fashion designer/animal psychologist. One fun day of work experience at a charity in London lead to lots of volunteering at university and then somewhere along the line, ‘this’ll do’ became ‘this is what I do.’
- Sometimes I do it because I’m really frustrated. I believe in what we’re doing at work, and limited resources or external factors that challenge that mission can be disappointing and demotivating. However, when channeled well, that frustration has led to some of my proudest pieces of work. Stubbornness, determination…whatever you call it, I’ve learnt that sometimes being told ‘no’ is a sure-fire way to make it happen.
- Sometimes I do it because I’m asked. I have a lot of faith in the stewardship that my managers and mentors provide, and wouldn’t have done half of the things I’ve done to-date (begrudgingly at times, like standing in front of lots and lots of people to make a speech or asking for money) if I hadn’t been given a little nudge by those who knew that I had it in me. It’s also surprising what impact a supportive workplace — one that is genuinely invested in your development — can have on the rest of your life. In my case, I took up running and learnt to drive!
- Sometimes I do it because of all the extra fun stuff I get from it: the development opportunities that come from working in a small organisation where you get lots of responsibility early on; the chance to spend an afternoon outdoors digging at a community project; and occasionally, cream-teas for a whole week because we over-ordered on the annual intergenerational tea party. Sometimes people say ‘oh, you work for a charity, that’s so noble’, but my answer is 'No! If anything the charity has been serving ME! Today I got to wear wellies to work!’
- Sometimes I do it because of the people. Pretty early on into my volunteering, I found that my work allowed me to meet a really great bunch of people who were all motivated to do something about a particular issue or cause that they felt passionate about. The prospect of spending 5 days each week with these people was too appealing an opportunity to pass up. On days where I really want to ignore my to-do list, the energy I get from my team, my colleagues, and the students working with us to tackle local issues can give me the little boost I need to get going again.
- I believe in our mission — that’s a given. I might take it for granted at times, but knowing that the work I do day-to-day will lead to some kind of social impact will never get old. However, I also think that small organisations in the charity sector have a lot to offer the people they employ, and that they need to invest in the people who work for them in order for their work to be sustainable. As part of my role I get to shape that for the people we employ. I’m super excited about that role, and how those efforts influence the social impact work that we do.