We often consider volunteering as giving our time to help others, yet research suggests it improves the physical and mental health of volunteers too. As we thank people across the UK for their contribution this #volunteersweek, we explore how organisations can maximise the benefits for all involved.

Why do People Work Unpaid?

Across the country, millions of people give their time to support others. Many community organisations only operate because of the generous donation of time given by local volunteers.

Volunteering takes many forms. You may have seen DIY SOS on the television, or have a child completing a Duke of Edinburgh Award. Teams of volunteers govern and fundraise for local schools, whilst many others stepped up to staff Covid vaccine centres.

Alongside the local sports team coaches and the charity shop staff, there are unofficial volunteering roles. Shopping for an elderly neighbour, campaigning on behalf of others and community litter-picking are just a few examples, but why do people work unpaid?

To start answering that question, here is some feedback from a few community centre volunteers:

“The news makes it difficult to believe anything positive is happening. Then you volunteer and see that hundreds of other people are doing the same. All this kindness is uplifting, it gives you hope.”

“I enjoy living in a community where there are things to do and where people look out for each other. Volunteering is my way of contributing towards that.”

“There’s been times when I’ve needed support from others. Now things have turned around, I want to repay the favour.”

“Some weeks I’m really busy and volunteering seems like another thing on the list. Then I go and people are happy to see me, they thank me and it feels good.”

Research has shown that volunteering is beneficial for both the individuals and organisations that are supported by volunteers, as well as for the volunteers themselves.

Volunteering boosts social connectivity, providing a sense of belonging and reducing isolation. It can develop skills and confidence, whilst opening up fresh opportunities. Volunteering gives a sense of pride, purpose and accomplishment. For many, it is a way to fulfil interests and values that are not met through work or other areas of life.

The NVCO has collated a wealth of research and information. Understanding the Impact of Volunteering on Volunteers* highlights the positive impact on physical and mental health.

Maximising the Benefits of Volunteering

The NVCO article shows that the greatest reward comes when:

  • People choose to give their time, rather than being mandated to do so.
  • They are not volunteering for personal gain
  • Their time and skills are openly appreciated
  • There are opportunities to form connections and build relationships
  • Volunteering continues over a sustained period

These are important factors for organisations that depend on volunteers or those encouraging staff to volunteer as part of ESG programmes.

Inclusivity & Diversity in Volunteering

Whilst volunteering builds community integration, an article by Civil Society** shows that there is a lack of diversity in those taking on official volunteering roles. Some minority groups are under-represented, despite having much-needed skills and experience. Those from minority groups who do give their time also report fewer positive experiences.

In response to the findings, the NCVO encourages charities and not-for-profit organisations to review volunteer information to check that the language and images do not create barriers. They want diversity and inclusion to be embedded within every aspect of an organisation’s work.

They also encourage those trying to attract volunteers to think about variety. By offering a wider selection of roles, seeking out specific skills or requesting different levels of commitment, they can increase interest. As an example, are there roles that volunteers could undertake from home?

Every volunteer who is willing and able to give their time should be welcomed, supported in their role and appreciated. Let’s ensure that everyone reaps the rewards of contributing to, and improving, their community.

*https://www.ncvo.org.uk/images/documents/policy_and_research/Impactful-volunteering-understanding-the-impact-of-volunteering-on-volunteers.pdf

**https://www.civilsociety.co.uk/news/how-we-talk-about-volunteering-may-need-a-re-think-in-order-to-be-more-inclusive-ncvo-tells-charities.html#

Promoting Organisations that I’ve Volunteered For

Finally, as it is #volunteersweek, I am going to use this opportunity to promote two organisations that are close to my heart.

  1. I am a Co-founder of WASP – Workplace Awareness of Suicide Prevention. Follow WASP on LinkedIn to find out more about our campaign: https://www.linkedin.com/company/wasp-uk/
  2. I volunteered for Shout, a crisis text service. Find out more about their work and how you can get involved: https://giveusashout.org/