Volunteers are a lovely bunch, aren’t they? Very nice I mean. Like, AA man nice (for those who don’t recall the old ad: https://goo.gl/V2A8c).
They are those selfless Samaritans who give so much in so many areas of modern life, across a range of communities and sectors, from offering practical assistance to charities, to helping educate and care for others. A huge amount of time is given over to volunteering. Many evenings are relinquished when full days have already been worked and weekends given over to benefit others.
And the reasons for doing it are varied. For some, it’s helping out with an activity that their child is undertaking (coaching a sports team for example). For others, the work done for free supports or makes up for a lack of services that might otherwise be provided by a council or health trust (another social topic entirely…)
Whatever the reasons, there are millions of awesome folk across the country that lend a hand regularly. And that’s heart-warming to hear in these times when fear, mistrust and negative news is spread in much greater volume than positivity and when nations and ideologies clash, making social cohesion feel reduced or under attack.
That makes it all the more important to remember that there are around 15 million people in the UK regularly (monthly or more) giving up their time for others, and this altruism often spans boundaries of age, race and religion, which in turn breaks down barriers and can bring people closer together.
Back to the ‘niceness’ though. I’m not about to dispute my opening statement, but we do need to add something to the mix. You see, much of the conversation you’ll hear centres on thanking volunteers for what they give and about how the hours they put in contribute to improving lives for others. And of course they should be appreciated; it goes a little way to repaying them for all that they give. It’s important too, as volunteers are so vital to communities that we simply cannot risk losing them due to them feeling under-appreciated.
But volunteering is not a one-way street. It’s easy to see it as a simple process where volunteers put time and energy in, and others reap the rewards of their efforts. But there’s more to it. Much more. Volunteering brings with it a host of benefits to the volunteers themselves. It is often highlighted that through volunteering you can grow in confidence, learn new skills and make new friends. All of this is true, but there are further well-being boosts, that are less well appreciated.
As an example from the world of sport, a survey by Join In provided some great facts and figures showcasing the benefits to be gained from giving. Volunteers reported having 10% higher self-esteem and were 15% less inclined to worry than those not involved. Their scores were FOUR times higher for the level of trust they felt in their community and EIGHT times higher for the influence they felt in their community.
Even if you were to be a bit cynical (which I am, to a fault) about the quantifying of emotional responses, it still paints a clear picture of how volunteering makes you feel better about yourself and more connected to those around you. Volunteers don’t so much GIVE their time as INVEST it. Because there is a very real, highly valuable return on that investment to the volunteer, the organisation and the community. It’s a win-win-win.
Given that volunteering is beneficial to all parties; charities and community groups could maybe think about not just asking people to give up their time, but rephrase it as offering people an opportunity to be involved and be part of a team. This is important as not only does this give greater recognition to the volunteer, but it also acknowledges the gains to be made, both practical and emotional, from giving your time to a good cause.
Paid staff are often seen as the organisation itself, and the volunteers as a support, valued but separate. We need to ensure that the definition of an organisation includes everyone who contributes to, and benefits from its success, and that includes some of the most important people of all – the volunteers.