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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Turning your hobby into a living

This opinion piece is over 7 years old

​Charlotte Bray looks back on the risks and rewards of her decision to turn her passion for volunteering into a full time job

How many times have you been doing something you enjoy and thought: why can’t I get paid to do this? I have friends who dream about being professional actors, writers or orchestral performers. Sometimes (quite often actually,) I fantasize about my Booker winning novel. Sadly, we all have to work for a living and a very small percentage of us are able to be employed surfing or eating cheese.

I am in a very fortunate position. Recently my hobby became my job, and I love it.

Charlotte Bray

Working to protect what I love gives me a genuine sense of job satisfaction

Charlotte Bray

When I left university I knew I wanted to be in the charity world. I didn’t know what exactly I would do, or even what sort of jobs existed so it took me several years and a very circuitous route to get here, but now I’m in the third sector, I know it’s the best place for me.

But, of course, everyone needs downtime. There are tough targets and tight budgets, sleepless nights and stressful deadlines. I need time to switch off and relax like anyone else, and one of my ways of achieving this is through volunteering.

I have helped with the Scottish Seabird Centre's SOS Puffin campaign for over seven years. I get to go on a boat and get dropped off on an island like something out of the Famous Five. I cut down weeds all day surrounded by the sounds of sea and birds, chat to interesting people and leave with a feeling of pleasant tiredness and achievement. A real bonus is seeing the physical results: a pile of dead weeds, which would otherwise have stopped the puffins getting to their burrows to breed. They aren’t vocal in their appreciation, but I’m sure they are grateful. Plus, we know it is working as the breeding numbers are increasing.

When a job came up at the Scottish Seabird Centre, therefore, it seemed a natural fit for me. As fundraising manager I enjoy a challenging but rewarding double-role. A large part of my job is to help raise money for a proposed capital appeal which, as it happens, is my specialist area. Over the last decade I’ve been involved in a number of building projects and they really appeal to me (pardon the pun). Coming in with an outside perspective and helping smaller charities go through big changes makes me feel like the Littlest Hobo. Capital appeals suit my love of planning and strategy, writing trust bids and working with small groups of individual donors and boards.

The second, equally valuable, part of my job is to raise money for the centre’s wildlife conservation and education work. Conservation, especially marine conservation, is a cause that is close to my heart. I grew up by the seaside, still live near it and feel a bit nervous if I can’t see something blue and sloshy in the corner of my vision. Working to protect what I love gives me a genuine sense of job satisfaction.

Right place, right cause, right skills. So: the perfect job?

Sometimes it certainly seems like it. In the morning I park my trusty steed, Harris the Yaris, by the sea. I take a breath of incredible fresh air and enjoy the striking view of the Bass Rock before walking to the office. To date I have worked up a turret in a zoo, in a mansion house by a safari park and in a crypt under a church. This time I am once again subterranean, but I have a sea-view. To make things exciting, I often walk to my office through the connecting migration tunnel – it has a wind turbine, whale sound effects, a 3D screen and automatic doors. As a fan of both science fiction and wildlife, this is cool, like a puffin-themed Starship Enterprise.

There are risks though. North Berwick is where I go to escape and enjoy volunteering, so turning it into my work destination risks taking the polish off it.

I was also worried I wouldn’t be able to separate SOS Puffin from my day-to-day work. Actually this is easier than expected as the former involves being covered in mud and wearing scruffy waterproofs. The hint is, if I smell like a seagull, I know I’m volunteering.

For all the risks there are huge advantages. I’ve always said that cause affinity is a big part of being a successful fundraiser. I care deeply about the work we do and being a volunteer gives me a personal perspective so I can talk to supporters as a supporter

Plus, when times are hard, as they can be in fundraising, there are so many positives. The people (all lovely), the place (stunning), and the puffins! There’s nothing more cheery than watching them waddling along on the live cameras when you’ve had a stressful day or an application declined.

It almost makes up for that time I applied for a job at Doctor Who Magazine and didn’t get it.



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Pam Shaw
over 7 years ago
A brilliant article Charlotte.It's great to hear a good story about being a fundraiser- the last 12 months have been difficult for those in the third sector.I, like you, feel so lucky to be in the position I am in. I work for a youth work charity taking young people out sailing. My route into Ocean Youth Trust Scotland was through my children, who first came on board as part of a school trip. I was so impressed with the change that took place over the week that I jumped at the chance to work with them. Three years on, I am still here.I too, was worried that if I was working for a sailing charity, it would ruin my love of being out on the water. But in fact, it has made me enjoy it even more. And the days that I do get out on our training vessels, I have to pinch myself and say "This is my job and I'm getting paid for this."
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