Volunteering can be described as giving your time and energy freely and by choice without concern for financial gain. It can describe hundreds of different activities that people choose to do to benefit or support others in the community. The word volunteering is used for a range of activities such as community service, self-help, charity, neighbourliness, citizenship, public service, community action, community involvement, trustee, member, helper.
There are volunteering opportunities in many different avenues such as health; social care; arts and culture; trusteeship; practical and DIY; management and in the environment. Volunteers save lives (Samaritans, RNLI); help run sports and social events (stewards, fundraisers, St John’s Ambulance); look after our wildlife and natural environment, fundraise, support vulnerable people.
Volunteering increases community social capital and individual wellbeing for the volunteers themselves and for the people they support. It can help increase community capacity and build social resilience.
The voluntary sector plays an important role delivering public services across the UK. In 2012/13 the sector received £13.3bn from government bodies, 83% of that was earned through contracts or fees. The majority of this income, £6.8bn, comes from relationships with local government[i]. Charities are able to fill gap in service delivery that the public or private sectors are not able or willing to do so. By being close to their users, charities have a unique perspective on their needs and how to improve services. There are also high levels of public trust in charities – they are the third most trusted group in society after doctors and the police. Many charities also engage in campaigning or advocacy around the same issue they deliver services on.
Benefits for the volunteer:
People who engage in altruistic activities (e.g. volunteering), report a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. Many of the ten key ingredients for a happy and fulfilling life that are identified by the ‘Action for Happiness’ movement[ii] are found in volunteering activities: giving, relating, exercising, awareness, trying out, direction, resilience, emotions, acceptance and meaning.
A number of health benefits relating to volunteering have been identified. These including improved quality of life, improved self-esteem, improved opportunities for socialisation and improved ability to cope with ill health[iii].
Volunteering can help to heal mental ill-health and addiction.
Volunteering is an opportunity to learn new practical and social skills, and can improve employment prospects.
Benefits for the beneficiaries and society:
Volunteering enables people to play an active role in their society and contribute to positive social change.
Volunteering helps to break down social barriers and offer people an opportunity to socialise with people from different social and cultural backgrounds.
Volunteers support vulnerable people in society and enable them to live a healthy and rewarding life. This could mean support with things we take for granted, such as practical help at home for disabled or older people, mentoring a care leaver and helping them to find their feet as an adult, or supporting a young mother struggling to provide for her children.
Volunteer organisations can help with continuing support for people in need when they leave official support services but are not ready to manage on their own, helping to bridge gaps in service provision and possibly preventing the of referral/improvement/removal of official support/relapse/referral that can occur with some vulnerable people.
Medical research has shown that support from volunteers can: decrease anxiety for patients facing medical procedures; increase survival times for hospice patients; increase breastfeeding and childhood immunisation rates; improve clinical attendance and taking of medicines; increase self-esteem in patients with long term conditions
Volunteers are essential to helping reduce the burden on carers and helping them to carry on effectively with their caring duties.
Volunteers can act as intermediaries between formal service providers and service users – they can been seen as peers rather than authority figures, and are also likely to have more time to listen and chat to the people they are supporting.
The 2016 World Happiness Report identified social support and generosity are key determinants of national (and community) wellbeing.
The umbrella organisations for the voluntary sector in Conwy CB and Denbighshire are Community and Voluntary Support Conwy (CVSC) and Denbighshire Voluntary Services Council (DVSC). They help to promote, support, enable and develop a sustainable voluntary sector in the area, through the provision of advice on fundraising, best practice in volunteering, good governance, training and by representing the views of third sector organisations to statutory bodies. Though there are there are currently no detailed statistics available about on local levels of volunteering, in 2014/15 CVSC and DVSC :
placed 480 volunteers and provided training courses for nearly 950 participants
received and responded to over 16,500 general enquiries; received and responded to 1,120 funding advice enquiries
helped local voluntary groups obtain almost £1.2m of funding; provided nearly £350,200 of funding through grants and loan schemes
More than 22 million people volunteer in the UK at least once a year. This is about two out of every five aged 16 or over. About 14 million people volunteer at least once a month for an average of 11-12 hours a month[iv].
In 2012/13, the Office for National Statistics estimated that volunteering contributes about £24bn to the UK economy every year.
[iv] UK Civil Society Almanac 2016, National Council for Voluntary Organisations
Since 2001, the rates of adults formally volunteering at least once in the last year continue to be within five percentage points of each other. This suggests that rates of volunteering remain relatively stable.
Though levels of interest in volunteering are currently as high as they’ve ever been, funding for volunteering is facing austere times in much the same ways as the public sector. Reductions in public sector services have also increased reliance on the voluntary sector to help support people, communities and infrastructure. In many cases, demand for volunteer support has never been higher. New technology is opening up new access routes and opportunities for people to participate, but the value of face-to-face volunteering has never been more apparent.
The following challenges to the future of volunteering have been identified by National Council for Voluntary Organisations[v]
How can we build and strengthen the volunteering infrastructure which underpins much of the social action which takes place in our communities?
How can we develop meaningful partnerships between the volunteering movement and the statutory and business sectors, based on the principle of co-production?
What role is there for volunteering in the delivery of public services? What are the opportunities and dangers? How can we reform the commissioning environment so that it takes appropriate account of the contribution that volunteers can make?
What contribution can volunteering make to aiding employability? How can we safeguard the integrity of volunteering as an act freely given?
How can we increase the value, impact and recognition of volunteer management?
How can we re-shape the voluntary sector to take account of young people’s aspirations and ambitions?
How can we harness the benefits of digital technology and get a better blend of online and face-to-face social action?
Westminster government wants to see a move away from the presumption that the state is the default provider of services. So it is likely the voluntary sector will continue to expand. The government wants to see
greater levels of service delivery by both the private sector and the voluntary sector
new mixed models of delivery – including ‘spin outs’ from the public sector and social enterprises.
However, the voluntary sector is not immune from the austerity measures UK government has been following for the last six years – about a third of all voluntary and community sector income comes from the state. NCVO has noted that the scale, speed and implementation of the cuts is hitting voluntary organisations hard[vi]. There is evidence that the cuts are not being applied consistently, proportionately or strategically. They also feel the cuts could cost the economy more in the long run because the sector plays an essential role in preventative services.