Ten personality traits that could make you a fantastic RDA volunteer (you just don't know it yet)

Photo from 2018

I've enjoyed welcoming some new volunteers to my sessions over the last few weeks, and I'm hoping there are more to come in the not-so-distant future. I know I'm not alone, either: many RDA groups are doing more than they have done in a long time, and with that comes the need for more people to keep it going. It's always a good time (lockdowns aside) to consider RDA volunteering, but could now be the most important time to get new volunteers on board?

I wrote a two part series for new volunteers not so long ago, but what about the would-be, could-be, maybe volunteers who aren't yet convinced whether RDA would be a good fit for them, their skills, and their schedules? This week's post is for you. Recognise some of these qualities in yourself - even if you're surprised that they're relevant to RDA? Go on, look up your nearest group. Already a fully fledged RDA recruit? I'd love to hear any of your additions to this list - or if sharing it helps you find some more people to add to your team!

1. You like horses

A lot of people think that the threshold for being able to volunteer with our admittedly very horse-facing charity is much, much higher than this. It really isn't. RDA groups will be able to train new volunteers without much equestrian experience (everyone will get some form of training regardless of how much they have), and some people have long, productive relationships with the organisation without having any other involvement with horses. If you like horses and aren't scared of them, that's a starting place we can work with: this lower-than-expected bar can apply to people with stacks of other transferable skills and fantastic attitudes, after all.

2. You're interested in people

RDA isn't RDA without horses, but it's also a very people-orientated organisation. You'll be meeting other volunteers from all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life, alongside getting to know a diverse range of disabled participants. In short, RDA isn't just about you (I think it's my favourite thing about it). You don't need to be an extra-extrovert who's ready to befriend everyone: sometimes we're great at bringing more reserved volunteers out of their shells. You do need to be interested in the mix of humans you're going to encounter.

3. You're keen on learning

I've never stopped learning since I joined my RDA group, and probably learn even more every week as a coach than I do as a volunteer. We need the kind of helpers who are happy to embrace that same learning curve, whether they're incredibly experienced with either horses or disabilities or a novice at handling both. RDA is all about sharing, growing, and being part of a process: if you're down to learn, you're very likely to flourish with us.

4. You've got initiative

This one is useful for all sorts of situations, but none more than a stableyard environment where there are always things to do. Even if you have a regular routine for how you help out at your group, making the most of quieter moments and not being afraid of asking "what can I do to help?" is one of the ways to keep the cogs whirring on these largely volunteer-powered yards. The best thing about initiative is that it isn't exclusive to experienced or confident people: the second best thing is that it helps everyone become both of these things.

5. You like thinking creatively

Thinking outside the box is pretty standard for RDA. You aren't expected to be a pro at this as a new volunteer, but if you know that your brain works like this already, you could be onto a winner by signing yourself up. Our groups are always encountering challenges of all sizes and natures, from getting a rider comfortable in the saddle to raising big sums of money. We're always in need of brainpower to work out how to overcome them!

6. You're a good communicator

So much of RDA is based on good communication, although our definition of "good" might be a bit different to what's useful at work or what gets good grades at school. We need to communicate in lots of different ways: in a single lesson there might be a need for super descriptive communication for a blind rider; largely non-verbal communication for an autistic rider; physical communication with lots of gestures and signs for a deaf rider. That's on top of being able to communicate well with your fellow volunteers, or perhaps turn a hand to social media, grant writing, or reporting. If you're already comfortable with just one of these things, or indeed willing to learn how to improve your skills, there's a decent chance you'd be a great RDA volunteer.

7. You're interested in fairness and inclusivity

RDA is a truly inclusive organisation, and we are proud of our unique platform to offer our participants an experience that is accessible and fair: both things which could vary slightly in the way they need to be applied to every individual who is a member of an RDA group. Many of the participants I've encountered haven't experienced fairness or inclusivity to any great extent in other areas of their life, like school or other extra-curricular activities. It's certainly important to me that my RDA group is able to create that sort of environment for them: we're looking for volunteers who share that enthusiasm for those values.

8. You want to be a good ally

Following on from point seven, a great potential RDA volunteer is the kind of person who really wants to support the participants they will encounter in a meaningful way. Being an RDA volunteer definitely makes you feel good, but it's not just a case of smiling at a few disabled children and giving yourself a pat on the back. Somebody who is ready to be accepting, and to accept when their preconceptions are wrong or they could do or say something differently, will be an excellent volunteer regardless of experienced they are when they come to their group for the first time. 

9. You want to help make things happen

New RDA volunteers don't have to bring any momentum to their group beside what's got them there in the first place, but if you like the idea of being part of a movement that's bigger than you and helping to make good things happen, you're definitely heading in the right direction. RDA groups are run by a cumulation of efforts of all sizes, so whatever kind of proactivity you can bring with you will be both welcomed and appreciated.

10. You're at least a little bit generous

"Generosity of spirit" is something that you hear a lot when talking about volunteering: it's not about giving something which is beyond your means (taking too much time, using skills you don't (yet) have...), but working out the most meaningful way of contributing what you can, when you can to a cause you care about. Great RDA volunteers get a lot out of their experiences for themselves, but don't necessarily prioritise that when there is so much to be gained from the act of giving their time. The longer you stick with it, the more likely you are to be found outside your comfort zone and/or sacrificing other things here and there for the sake of your group, because you know the pay off is worth it. Does this sound like it could be you? Your local RDA group might be worth a message...

Photo credit: Darren Woodlow