What do you look for in a volunteer?
We want volunteers from all walks of life and all backgrounds. However, we are looking for people who:
- are non-judgemental
- are able to limit their own experiences when taking calls
The first seems obvious but the second is, in our experience, far more challenging, because naturally when someone tells you what’s worrying them we usually draw on what we know, from our own lives.
So volunteers have to be non-directive. They also have to be adaptable. A call from a 15 year old just ‘coming out’ might be immediately followed by a call from a 50 year old man looking for a local bar, followed by a married woman who has just had her first lesbian experience and is wondering, ‘Does that make me gay?’
When the phone rings, you don’t know what to expect. And although we don’t assume volunteers know everything about gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans life in the UK – we do look for people who have an appreciation of the diversity of life experiences, and who are comfortable talking about whatever our callers want to talk about. We want our volunteers to be curious when they pick up the phone or answer an Instant Message session and to be interested in finding out what the caller or messenger has to say.
We are looking for volunteers committed to taking shifts on a regular basis. If you have daytime, late evening and weekend availability we would be especially interested, as these can be difficult periods to cover.
What’s your typical volunteer like?
Well, just like you. There really isn’t a typical volunteer. Each one of our volunteers is different. What we want is to have as diverse a group of volunteers as is possible, to better reflect the incredible diversity of the calls we take.
If you think you come from a group less well-represented in the LGBT+ communities – lesbian, bi, trans, black and ethnic minorities and also people with disabilities – we would especially like to hear from you.
Do you have to be LGBT+ to volunteer?
Yes, it’s Switchboard policy that all volunteers self-identify as part of the LGBT+ communities.
What can I expect from the training?
The training is designed to help you deal with the range and variety of calls that we get here at Switchboard.
It consists of:
- Role Plays. You get to play both volunteer and caller.
- Group Exercises. What can we learn from each other?
- Information System Training. Switchboard’s protocols and rules which are there to protect our volunteers.
- Sexual Health/HIV Training. How to make this a part of every call.
Initial training takes place over 4 consecutive Saturdays or 8 weeknights – usually a Wednesday. We require volunteers to attend all sessions.
How tough is it? Is there a test?
The training is fun and informative, but clearly there is a serious agenda. We want you to feel confident in meeting the required standard to speak to callers.
At the end of the course there is an assessment using role plays, but no written test.
How are shifts organised?
Switchboard operates a flexible shift system. There are no fixed shifts. You can fit us around your work, study or life commitments, depending on what best suits you.
Most shifts are 3-4 hours long. Some people do 5-6 hour shifts and some people sign up for a little as one hour.
Shifts are booked in advance through our electronic system.
If you book in for an Instant Messaging shift, you can even do this at home.
What kind of commitment is asked of me?
The minimum commitment for volunteers is 6 hours a month, which you can organise however you like. For most volunteers, that means a 3-hour shift either on the phones or instant messaging once a fortnight, often at a regular time.
As Switchboard is a volunteer-led organisation, everyone is asked to get involved in ‘back-up’ work each year – this could be anything from taking part in a fundraising bucket rattle to running a social event, helping train other volunteers or getting involved in an IT project.
It is expected that volunteers be able to commit for at least two years. This is due to the huge amount of volunteer time that goes into the training programme.
I’m unwaged/have childcare. Can I be reimbursed expenses?
All unwaged volunteers, those with a disability and/or incurring childcare costs, are actively encouraged to claim back expenses such as travel costs, in order to allow them to attend training.
Where is Switchboard based?
We’re based in North London and all volunteers must be able to travel here for shifts on a regular basis. The nearest tube stations are Angel or Kings Cross.
Is there other volunteering work I can do for Switchboard apart from answering calls?
We have operational teams which support and develop the valuable work Switchboard does. If you have a specialised skill which could benefit one of these, please let us know. Your talents and experience are our greatest asset!
What’s the application process like and how long does it usually take?
Once you submit your initial application, you’ll normally hear from us within about 5-10 days. If successful, you’re invited to attend an Information Session where you’ll learn more about Switchboard, our values and what to expect from being a volunteer with us. These sessions are usually held once a month.
If you like what you hear at the Information Session and feel that you are a good match for Switchboard (and vice versa), then you’ll book yourself a telephone or Skype interview with us.
Following a successful interview, you’ll be invited to book onto one of our training courses. By this point, it could have been 3 months since you submitted your initial application so please do bare this in mind when applying…of course this all depends on your availability and on how quickly the Information Sessions, Interviews and courses get booked up.