The COVID jobs crunch has led a number of our Furloughed Or Released Talent (FORT) group members to consider volunteering for charities whilst furloughed.

After being put on furlough himself, Sam Tasker-Grindley spotted an opportunity to help charities struggling to fill "the £12 billion black hole" caused by the pandemic by mobilising a workforce of highly skilled professionals on furlough.

Together with HelloFresh co-founder, Hamish Shephard, they developed the non-profit project Furlonteer, which has paired thousands of skilled professionals with charities.

Sam had a wealth of advice to share with our Furloughed or Released Talent (FORT) community members in our latest 'Ask Me Anything' (AMA).

He discussed the benefits of volunteering, how Furlonteer works, the type of commitment that Furlonteers make, the charities that they help, as well as sharing some wonderful success stories.

Sam Tasker-Grindley Furlonteer co-founder Guild profile

Would it be accurate to say that you've had an unconventional career path Sam?

"Since lockdown, definitely. At the start of COVID, I was a chartered accountant who had fortunately been in practice for the last eight years of my career.

Then, after being furloughed in April, I did some volunteering for a mental health company and eventually decided to set up Furlonteer. It confirmed my love for start-ups and so I quit my job and joined a fintech start-up called Clarity; it’s the happiest I’ve ever been in any role."

What advice would you give to anyone currently feeling vulnerable about being furloughed or released?

"It's really tough at the moment. That’s undeniable.

When I was furloughed, I feared losing my job and felt incredibly vulnerable. I realised I had two options:
1) Wait to see what happens and enjoy the time to relax

OR
2) Use furlough as an opportunity to do something that I might never have had the courage or confidence to do ordinarily.

I recommend option two. No one wants to look back on this historic time with regret. So, I resolved to learn new skills, in marketing and PR. I reflected on what I really wanted to achieve in my career and decided that I wanted to leave accounting.

My second piece of advice would be to find a career with purpose. For me, volunteering and setting up Furlonteer has created my ideal work-life balance.

Being furloughed gave me the gift of time. I read books, took courses and tried new things. The break enabled me to further differentiate myself from everyone else and to take a risk."

What is Furlonteer?  

"Hamish Shephard and I co-founded Furlonteer about a month into the furlough scheme, when the number of workers being furloughed was rising quickly. Since being on furlough myself, I had genuine concerns for my mental health.

I had lost my routine, my sense of purpose and my reason for getting up each day. I'm a very social person and so the prospect of being confined to a house for an unknown length of time was inconceivable. We recognised that there were probably millions of people feeling exactly the same way.

So, we decided to create a platform that can match highly and widely skilled workers on furlough with charities and good causes who were (and still are) crying out for help that they may never have been able to afford before. To date we've supported more than 10,000 furloughed workers and are working with over 5,000 charities."

What types of charities do you work with and what type of support do they need from volunteers?

"There has been a complete variety of charities in need of our support. Ultimately, if a charity is genuinely in need and not just trying to source cheap labour, then we will find them volunteers.

During COVID, charities have had to find different ways of engaging with audiences. They are unable to run events as usual and then don't have people in the street shaking buckets. As a result, the main skills that charities have cried out for are PR, marketing and content writing.

I would approximate that at least 70% of placements were from these categories. Therefore, it was a great chance for ‘furlonteers’ with these backgrounds to gain new skills, work experience and contacts, while also immersing themselves in new sectors. For the freelancers who signed up, it was also a chance to build their portfolios."

How has the pandemic impacted charities?

"The pandemic has created a £12 billion black hole for charities. Each of them needs funding so the competition for grants is fiercer than ever and, tragically, many won't make it. Having now worked closely with many small charities, and having witnessed the huge difference they make to people’s lives, I am further saddened at this bleak reality.

However, a little bit of volunteering goes such a long way. I really encourage everyone to find some time in their work-life balance to give the odd hour here or there to a charity you're passionate about.

Most charities find it very difficult to tell their stories. When they do, it's often in an echo chamber where they're preaching to the converted. The skills you have could make the difference between a charity’s failure or survival. We know this, because charities have told us about the difference our ‘furlonteers’ have made!"

What are the rules around furlough and volunteer work?
Are there any restrictions that anyone on FORT thinking about Furlonteering might need to know about?

"There are no strict rules; you don’t even need to be furloughed. We have freelancers, released talent and people who want to do something good as well as working their regular job. I suppose the only requirements are to try your best, be reliable, be honest and to not let the charity down.

They are hugely appreciative of all support given, so any is better than none. People volunteer for anything from a single hour to nine hour days. Some volunteer for multiple charities. Crucially, Furlonteer was set up for charities and released-talent, so we want it to serve both sides.

More than a third of the furlonteers that signed up have now been made redundant. It’s a scary reality. However, when applying for new roles, these people can now tell employers about the amazing things they achieved during COVID, while the masses perfected their banana bread and watched Tiger King."

How does the Furlonteer registration process work?
Can volunteers specify the types of charity that they would like to work with or the locations and communities that they want to support?

"Volunteers specify the type of charity they are passionate about. The most popular areas have been in mental health, homelessness and animals.

Location was less important as we have mostly pushed remote working opportunities. However, we have also run a few campaigns for on the ground volunteering which were crucial earlier on in lockdown."

Any Furlonteering success stories you can share?

"My favourite charity success story is Flourishing Families in Leeds.

They support disadvantaged families who can't afford to pay for their next meals. Covid and the lockdown was catastrophic for them.

Without the support of a PR and marketing person, this charity may have collapsed. Thanks to furloughed volunteers, they now have a social media presence, a new website and are employing a new recruit. Flourishing Families went from barely surviving to growing for the first time in three years. As a result of flourishing themselves, they are able to continue being a life blanket for hundreds of families across Leeds.

I worked with some PR Furlonteers to help us get our stories out. Three of them came from travel and sport PR, which were not ideal industries to be in at the time. After being made redundant they have now secured new roles: one in a charity; one in lifestyle PR and the last in-house for an accounting firm. You never know where these things might take you."

Any tips for fitting volunteering in around job applications?

"No one can job search for ten hours a day. So dedicate at least one of those hours volunteering. This will elevate your CV while simultaneously increasing your connections and widening your network.

In my experience, some of the best jobs aren't advertised - this is why networking is so important."

Comms and marketing are amongst the most requested skills required by charities. Is this because of the transferable skills these careers provide? What types of unusual new roles might someone with these skills find themselves doing in a charity that you support?

"Definitely, comms and marketing skills are potentially the most transferable skills of all, particularly if you have a digital marketing background. Similar to working for start-ups, when you help a small charity, you can end up getting involved in everything; social media, virtual web events, SEO, Google Analytics, managing digital ad spends and creating ads.

Even if you don't know much, you will know more than many. Therefore, volunteering in comms and marketing is a great way to increase your skills and experience things you haven’t yet had the chance to try in a paid workplace."

Thank you to Sam for joining us in the FORT.

Other FORT AMAs:

Inside the FORT - Three comms recruitment leaders discuss their top CV and job application tips

Inside the FORT with BoldMove founder Julia Fenwick - Prospects for the communications industry post-COVID

Inside the FORT with journalist and writer Linda Aitchison: How jobseekers can stand out on LinkedIn

Inside the FORT with PR Cavalry founder Nigel Sarbutts: Making the leap to freelancing

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