Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

How do you volunteer today?

September 2, 2015

14510298822_199effb0cb_mSo how do you volunteer today? An occasional trip to a charity with your team to dig a garden or a regular activity to support your personal passion…?

Each one of us has a group of skills, abilities and experiences that we choose to use in different ways, every day at work and at home. Those skills, abilities and experiences are exactly what are needed by start-ups, not-for-profit organisations and charities as they navigate through new experiences and challenges.

My new volunteering journey started when I saw a posting on a Facebook group, I responded and very quickly found myself being interviewed by the Chair of Trustees of Berkshire Women’s Aid (BWA).

The Board of Trustees should operate within a charity in much the same way as the board in a business does. According to the Charity Commission, ‘Trustees have overall control of a charity and are responsible for making sure it’s doing what it was set up to do. Being a trustee means making decisions that will impact on people’s lives. Depending on what the charity does, you will be making a difference to your local community or to society as a whole. Trustees use their skills and experience to support their charities, helping them achieve their aims.’

Cisco actively supports employees joining the boards of not-for-profit organisations. ‘By serving on the board of a nonprofit organisation, you’ll work to maximize the health and impact of that agency while developing your business planning skills as a manager and strategic thinker. There are currently thousands of open positions on philanthropic boards, each of which can help you make a focused and high-impact difference in the community.’

BWA is a charity focussed on domestic violence victims and their families in my local area and I was struck very quickly that the decisions made by the Board do directly affect people’s lives. If we decide that women in the refuges, often with their families, can stay for a year rather than two then that means they have to start looking for new accommodation and it pushes them along a route to rebuild their lives much more quickly. However, it also means that BWA are more likely to have a bed available when someone is in such dire circumstances that they have to flee from their existing life. Decisions within a charity have to constantly refer to the goals of the charity overall but there’s a much more direct link to people’s lives than we see in the business world.



BWA’s Board of Trustees had decided to broaden their experience base to increase their diversity to ensure they were taking in different points of view to make the right decisions for the future of the organisation. I joined at the same time as an academic from Reading University with a background in setting up rape crisis services – a very, very different set of skills and experience to mine.

My experience at Cisco quickly drove me to ask questions and challenge the thinking of the Board around social media. Fears of trolling had led the Board to discount the need for any type of social media presence for BWA but their future clients are growing up in a world where when they need help they are going to be much more likely to search online than look in a phone book. So, I’m working on their online presence – using skills honed in Cisco to benefit the charity.

iStock_business meeting(2)Skill based volunteering is truly a win-win. It’s a very different world to practise and enhance my listening and influencing skills which I believe helps me to grow and develop as a leader and I bring new and diverse skills to the charity to help them develop for the future.

There are many opportunities for skills based volunteering. If you are in Cisco UK or Ireland and are interested in one of these opportunities, contact us at: or search online to find what works for you.

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  1. Completely agree. It’s great to volunteer and help with anything of course. However when we give back with our sork skills our value to the recipient multiplied 5-10 times