The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) defines volunteering as:
“Any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives. Volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual.”
We understand that people who volunteer for Big Local have other things going on in their lives. You may be a carer, have a family, a job, or other voluntary work, or all of those commitments. We don’t expect Big Local volunteers to do Big Local activities all of the time!
We know that volunteers can make a positive difference to communities. But there’s also evidence that volunteering itself can transform people’s lives. It can help build close friendships and new social networks, which in turn help make communities stronger. It can contribute to improved health, happiness and well-being. It can increase skills and confidence. It can lead to more opportunities. And volunteer action is sometimes better at identifying what it is that a community wants to get done.
An NCVO research project, Pathways through Participation, found that most people volunteer for personal reasons. Something happens that makes them want to do something (perhaps a personal experience, a world event, or suddenly having more spare time), and then – just at the right moment – someone asks them to help or to get involved. A typical volunteer will dip in and out throughout their life. So volunteering is about getting involved with the issues we care about, when we feel ready and able to do so.
Rewarding volunteers is a good way to let them know that you value them. But the reward shouldn’t involve money, or anything that could be used for profit – this could be considered as earnings, and there is a risk that the relationship becomes contractual, rather than voluntary.
There are many other ways to reward volunteers: you can hold events such as meals or awards parties, or organise fun activities. People also appreciate small gestures such as a thank-you card or a certificate.
Even though volunteers are not paid, it is good practice to ensure that they are not left out of pocket because they are volunteering. For example, you might want to reimburse travel expenses. It is best to have a policy for this, setting out what volunteers can and can’t claim for, and make it easily available. Your locally trusted organisation may have a volunteering policy that covers this.
Many Big Local areas tell us they find it difficult to attract volunteers and keep them involved, and that they end up relying too heavily on a small number of people.
The answer is to try and make volunteering an enjoyable and attractive experience for everyone. There will always be a need for some unglamorous or even boring work. But how many of the things that you do could happen in ways that are fun and attractive to more of the community?
It’s also important to support each other locally. Think about:
And don’t forget – you can ask for help. We all sometimes get fed-up or tired when we feel that we have too much to do. If things are getting too much for you, ask for help from other members of the partnership or steering group, locally trusted organisation or Big Local rep.
Volunteers will have a much better experience and be more likely to continue to volunteer if you are clear about the types of tasks you want them to do.
The NCVO website provides a list of the sort of documents and policies that are going to be of use to most organisations involving volunteers.
There is no limit on the number of hours a week you can be a volunteer. However, this may affect people who are receiving certain benefits. For more information please see the Citizens Advice Bureau advice guide on volunteering.
V Inspired – an independent charity dedicated to helping young people volunteer in ways that matter to them.
Do-it Trust – the UK’s national volunteering database, Do-it.org makes it easy for anyone to volunteer in their community.
NCVO – committed to supporting, enabling and celebrating volunteering in all its diversity. NCVO has support and resources for all aspects of volunteering.