Has the COVID-19 pandemic inspired you to think about volunteering?

Featured article - 03 June 2020
By Andy Forster, Programme Manager at TimeBank, the volunteering charity

Andy Forster, Programme Manager at TimeBank, the volunteering charity

We are working in circumstances without precedent when the COVID-19 pandemic means more people will become more socially isolated and vulnerable simply by trying to do the right thing. At the same time, many charities have had no choice but to withdraw staff and volunteers when demand for their services has never been higher.

For thousands of people, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a motivation to become more involved in volunteering. For some the experience has been rewarding, but for others less so. During the pandemic we have continued to follow the same principles we have always adopted in developing and delivering new volunteering opportunities.

To ensure that we offer a consistent, safe, and rewarding experience, the best possible volunteering experience - and to maximise our impact, TimeBank takes a measured view. What we have never done is issue open calls for volunteers. While in some circumstances this can add value, we believe our approach lends itself better to a skills-led model of volunteering. We develop specific opportunities, thinking about the tasks to be delivered, the time commitment involved and the skills and abilities volunteers will need to bring to the role.

We then apply benchmarks to ensure that any new volunteering projects and opportunities fit with our overall strategy:

Will any new volunteering projects we develop be contributing to a collective effort?

Rather than acting in isolation, we actively seek to work in partnership with others. By doing this we ensure we complement the work of statutory and voluntary sector providers and avoid unnecessary duplication. Our volunteering roles are distinct from those of paid employees – and while they play a vital role, we recognise that not every role is suitable for volunteers. Where there is a statutory duty for a service to be provided, or where a level of professional, clinical or technical experience is required and relied on by beneficiaries when making life-changing decisions, then more often than not that role should be delivered by employees.

Have we talked to volunteer-involving organisations about their capacity to develop and support volunteering?

The best volunteering happens when we work with volunteer-involving organisations to develop those opportunities. We ensure that any new opportunities we offer are meaningful, well managed, diverse and inclusive. When we talk to volunteer-involving organisations, many of whom are small grass roots organisations, we try to understand how volunteers can contribute to their work. We also work with them to build their capacity to support volunteers. All volunteers recruited by TimeBank will be trained and managed throughout their volunteering by one of our Project Coordinators.

Have we asked what will the volunteer get out of this opportunity?

We recognise that for many of those who want to volunteer it is a reciprocal relationship. Yes, the difference they make is vitally important, but so is recognising that the volunteers will also want to gain from the experience. For example, an employee of a company may wish to be involved in a local community project as part of their company’s corporate social responsibility remit, for others it is to gain valuable experience to skills for future employment, and for some it is to support a transition in life – from employment into retirement or from a period of ill-health to support their wellbeing. The important fact is to remember that volunteers often want something specific from the volunteering they do and to match that motivation with an appropriate opportunity.

So during Volunteers’ Week if you are thinking about developing a volunteering opportunity, make sure you have asked yourselves the questions above – and if you are interested in finding out more about TimeBank, please contact me at andyf@timebank.org.uk

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