A Hand Along the Way – Volunteering in the Bisexual Community

volunteer-1The bisexual community thrives because of its volunteers. Some are highly visible – those who run events like last weekend’s highly successful EuroBiCon and the heads of organisations like BCNBiUK and the Bisexual Index, others work behind the scenes, doing accounts, designing posters and collecting tea money.  Biscuit fave Cat returns to tell us what the draw is, and how you can get involved. 

I’ve done quite a bit of volunteering work in the UK bi community over the years. I work full time and have children and, as a result, have limited free time – so why do I want to spend it doing more work when I could be relaxing?

Putting something back

I’ve been involved with the UK bi community for 10 years now, since I attended my first BiCon in 2003. Although I had other friends who were bisexual, I didn’t really feel like I really belonged anywhere – not being located at either end of the Kinsey Scale I was too gay for the straight world and too straight for the gay world. When I attended my first BiCon, for me, it felt like some sort of homecoming. Finally I had found a space where I could be myself, where I wasn’t having to constantly argue that my sexuality was valid. I got so much out of BiCon and other events such as BiFest that I wanted to put something back – to make sure that projects in the bi community could keep happening to help more people like myself.

Changing things for the better

One potential result of volunteering is making things change for the better. New volunteers bring fresh ideas to what can sometimes become a stagnant organisational structure if the same people keep organising events. Outside of event organising, raising or increasing awareness of the cause you’re volunteering for is a way to change things for the better – the more awareness that is raised about something the better it is understood and, consequently, the better people affected by that issue are treated which can help improve their lives.

Meeting people

Volunteering is a great way to meet other people. Volunteering at an event can bring you into contact with people you may not have spoken to otherwise, such as other people working on organising the event and attendees at the event itself. Other forms of activism can help you to meet new people via email lists, social media platforms, meetings etc – this can include other activists with whom you share a common goal, people allied to your cause, people affected by the issue you’re campaigning for and those whose awareness you are trying to raise which can vary from the average person on the street to government officials.

Being more attractive to employers

Volunteering is good for applying for jobs. In and of itself, including it on your CV or an application form shows that you’re willing to do that bit extra, and may well be that little bit of extra information that helps you stick in a potential employer’s mind.

Beyond that, it is possible to learn and develop new skills and/or gain in experience in a work area that you’ve previously had no or little experience in. For example, organising the registration desk and volunteers at BiCon 2012 gave me experience in managing volunteers; when I helped administer the Equalities Fund (a bursary that helps people to attend BiCon who may not be able to otherwise) this gave me experience of managing a bursary and making decisions on applications to this. Volunteering at an event can give you customer facing skills; helping to design a website for an event can potentially develop skills in web design and/or writing copy for a website; compiling a list of places to post out flyers for an event to can count towards marketing skills… This list is not exhaustive, there are plenty of other skills you can gain from volunteering that would enhance your CV.

How do I get involved?

If you’ve made it this far and the paragraph above has persuaded you that volunteering doesn’t necessarily have to be an all-consuming thing, you’re probably wondering how you can get involved. (Well, maybe – you may just have read this far out of politeness…) If you do want to get involved with something and you can’t find a specific call for volunteers anywhere, the best thing to do is to find contact details and ask. There may be something specific that you have in mind that you could do, in which case suggest this; otherwise explain that you are interested in volunteering and ask if there is anything useful that you can do. Don’t take it personally if there are no opportunities available at present – it may well be that there are sufficient people already to cover all the roles that there are, and in most cases organisers will be glad that you thought to ask. Also, don’t be disheartened if a volunteering role that is suggested isn’t quite what you were hoping for. Have a think to see if it’s something you could do as, at the end of the day, nobody would be asking if you could do it if it wasn’t something useful that needed doing. If not, ask if they can bear you in mind in case future opportunities arise that may be a better fit for your preferred role and/or the time that you are able to commit.

I want to do something useful but there’s nothing that I can get involved in

Have you got a great idea that you want to work on for a campaign or event that nobody else seems to be doing? In which case, why don’t you have a go at setting something up yourself. Check the internet and listings in the press to see if there’s anything similar going on already (it’s better to join forces than it is to duplicate effort). If it looks like there’s a niche waiting to be filled with your idea, work out exactly how to go about achieving what you want to do by working out exactly what needs to be done and how much time it will take up and write an action plan. If it’s something that you think you can achieve alone then great, go ahead! If not, work out what you can do and what you need help with. After you’ve done this, start asking for volunteers. Approach people you know first if you think you know anybody that fits the bill. If you can’t get enough volunteers through personal contacts, join some email lists and forums and issue a call for volunteers that way; also use social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to ask for volunteers; if you have a website set up for your campaign or event, you can also ask for volunteers through that as well.

But I don’t have time to volunteer!

So you may have read this and thought ‘But I don’t have time to volunteer!’ Some people I know in the bi community commit a great deal of time to volunteering and activist work, a great deal more than I could personally manage. I would certainly never expect someone to commit to doing something voluntarily where they wouldn’t be able to maintain that commitment; however, what I would ask people to do is consider what time and energy they could potentially give up to doing some volunteering. Maybe it could be agreeing to meet and greet new people at a regular social event or support group every month, or volunteering to help out for an hour or so on a reception desk at an event that you’re attending. It doesn’t matter if your volunteering contribution seems small – every little helps.

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Cat Rocks

Cat is in her mid 30s (and is rapidly approaching her late 30s at an alarming rate) and has identified as bisexual for longer than she cares to remember. In between working, being a parent, knitting and battling a Frijj addiction she occasionally finds time for writing and other forms of activism.

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