Seán Callery works in the communications team at the Law Society of Scotland and recently spent a day volunteering with Home Start Edinburgh West and South West.
I’m not a parent and I have no experience of working with parents.
Or kids. I’ve never worked with them either.
Running a charity is another thing I know nearly nothing about.
Oh, and I’m not terribly familiar with west or south-west Edinburgh.
What on earth then did I have to offer a charity based in Edinburgh west and south-west which offers support to the parents of small children?
Nothing on the face of it. But as I realised recently, to be able to muck in and help out a charity doing great work, you don’t really have to know much about that work.
Focus instead on what you do know.
I work in communications and marketing. I help my employers (The Law Society of Scotland) communicate with their audiences and promote themselves. And funnily enough charities like Home-Start Edinburgh West and South West need to do that too.
They help parents who, for whatever reason, need a bit of support in their children’s early years. So they need to communicate with these parents.
They need volunteers to help them do this work and that means reaching out to potential supporters.
They also need donors and other funders to help them pay the bills. That requires communication and persuasion.
Small charities need to be able to shout to be heard and to stay in the front of people’s minds. Many of them just don’t have the resource to be able to do that.
And that’s exactly why they need volunteers.
I was amazed at how easy it was to apply the experience I have from my ‘day job’ to something which seems completely different.
I joined the HSEW team (Margot, Heather, Becky and Leigh) in their office on Gorgie Road for a day and quickly realised their communication challenges are more or less the same as those faced by any brand.
They need to write letters, send emails, update Facebook, tweet tweets, format web pages, distribute brochures, design leaflets, issue press releases and answer phones.
I was able to help out in some of these areas. But in all honesty, I barely scratched the surface.
Home Start Edinburgh West and South West is run by an incredibly small team who have a massive workload. And as you’d expect, communication isn’t always the priority. But they do realise its importance and are unbelievably determined to do what needs to be done.
With a bit of guidance (which hopefully I was able to offer) they’ll continue to get to grips with the challenges they face in reaching the parents they aim to help and the donors and volunteers they in turn look to for support.
I guess the lesson in all of this is that whatever you do, there’s a good chance your experience and qualifications can be applied to a good cause.
And if I can offer a recommendation, I would advise that your charity should begin at Home Start.