I decided to volunteer for the National Trust after seeing an advert on a toilet door at Longshaw Estate in the Peak district. Now I’m part of a small community who are classed as regular volunteers, that is at least once a month.
According to the Community Live Survey 2014/2015 less than 30% of the population volunteer regularly. So, why do people offer their time and what stops others ‘lending a hand’?
My reason for volunteering is the cause itself. I love being outdoors. The National Trust work hard to look after our countryside, keeping it accessible to families and those who enjoy outdoor pursuits.
The cause is the second most popular reason given. The main reason, according to 53% of those surveyed, is that we want to improve things and help people. My mum, who has experienced tinnitus for over thirty years, is a founder member of a self-help support group run entirely by volunteers. Her reason for launching the group is to help others who are suffering with tinnitus to manage the condition and improve their quality of life.
Other reasons include having spare time, in joint second at 41% with the cause. In fourth place was meeting new people, at 30%. Particularly popular for the age group 18 – 24, 27% believe it will help with a new career while 19% want to learn new skills.
Why does volunteering matter to charities?
The benefits to the organisation are obvious. Charities can reduce their operating costs when using volunteers. They can also offer a service that would not be cost effective if provided by paid staff.
Longshaw is a good example of this. A survey by the National Trust at revealed that, unlike other sites that are accompanied by a historical property, there was no one to welcome visitors to the estate, which was seen negatively. It wasn’t cost effective to the National Trust to pay someone to provide this service but with donated support, it has become possible. This is the role I have, as one of a team who welcome people to Longshaw Estate with a friendly face and offering information and advice.
A study in 2014 by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations reported that 91% of charities registered in the UK have no paid staff and are run by volunteers, in a similar way to the support group in which Mum is involved.
What are the benefits to volunteers?
So what are the benefits to the individuals who are giving their time? The main reward is the ‘helpers high’. Helping others is key to happiness and comes in at number one on the Action for Happiness list of ways to improve feelings of wellbeing.
Mum finds it immensely satisfying to have helped someone to improve their own health and wellbeing by sharing her knowledge and understanding of tinnitus. For me too, knowing that I have helped improve the experience of those visiting Longshaw simply by passing on information about the whereabouts of the coffee shop or giving advice about the various beautiful walks, helps me to enjoy the time I give to the estate.
Volunteering doesn’t have to be a commitment
Despite the personal benefits, over 70% of people do not volunteer. According to the Community Life survey, 82% of people state that their main reason was time, which was also cited by 41% as being the reason they stopped any volunteering they had done. It does appear that many of the National Trust volunteers are retired and, therefore, have an increased amount of free time.
It’s true many opportunities do require specific time commitments, which is understandably difficult with work and family. However, I find the role of Welcome Volunteer flexible. I don’t have to commit to a regular time and can book in for a half-day that fits around work and family.
Many charities, schools and other voluntary organisations also require volunteers on a one-off ad-hoc basis, such as helping at community or school fetes. More people are happier to donate their time if they can do so as a one-off. As the survey revealed, 42% of people had taken part in an event at least once in the last year.
Volunteering is a great way to support causes you are passionate about, or to give something back to an organisation that has helped you. It also helps to increase happiness, meet new people and increase skills.
If regular volunteering is difficult due to time constraints, you could consider helping on a one-off basis. Your local Volunteer Centre can provide you with opportunities to suit your needs or you could encourage your workplace to offer a helping hand at a local charity as part of a team bonding exercise. This has recently become popular in large private sector organisations and has benefits for both organisations – the one providing the manpower and the one receiving the help.