Volunteering is often considered as a way of solving problems that we face personally or as a society. Recently, The Daily Mail has urged people to volunteer in the NHS and to litter pick, which clearly will make a difference to society. The Government think volunteering is so important for us as individuals that as part of its flagship youth project, The National Citizenship Scheme (NCS), young people take part in a social action activity in the hope that it encourages them to volunteer for the rest of their lives.
However, is it realistic to expect that volunteers can really have a significant impact on the organisations that they volunteer in? Additionally, can volunteers expect to benefit from their voluntary work within an organisation such as the NHS?
Many societies and groups such as youth groups and organisations in the Community and Voluntary Sector rely almost completely on volunteers to undertake their work. Volunteering can bring a range of different benefits to an organisation, in fact many societies and groups such as youth groups and organisations in the Community and Voluntary Sector (VCS) rely almost completely on volunteers to undertake their work. Volunteering is thought of as an altruistic activity, that is an activity which involves giving without an expectation of reward, and it is true to say that for many people this notion of giving is a major motivation for volunteering. However, volunteering can additionally bring its own rewards to the volunteer themselves.
The notion of contributing to the ‘common good’ whilst forgoing personal gain is central to the voluntary principle of individual and collective acts of giving and some volunteers find the idea that they might gain from their giving uncomfortable. Whereas, for many volunteers, the idea that they may in some way benefit from their activity, even if it is only in the sense that they live in a better society, is very important to their choice of volunteering project or activity.
The benefits of volunteering
Volunteering can have a positive impact upon a volunteer and therefore increase their work-related skills and their future economic contribution to society.Social: The social benefits of volunteering are often linked to the altruistic motives for volunteering. Research, and experience, has shown that volunteering is a great way to meet new people and make friends. One example of potentially selfless social volunteering linked to the NHS is that of blood donation. Volunteers have been donating blood to the NHS for over 70 years. This act of giving plays a vital role in saving lives and demonstrates the significant impact relatively small altruistic acts can have. The growth of blood donation is testament to the ongoing desire for people to volunteer their time and resources. In 1946 fewer than 200,000 donations were collected whereas donors made around 1.6 million donations in 2015.
Economic: Whilst it is difficult to measure, the economic benefit of volunteering in the UK was estimated to exceed £50 Billion in 2014. Whilst debates concerning where the responsibilities of the state end and broader responsibility for social action begin, around seven in ten people have volunteered formally, that is in a through a group, club or organisation, at some point in their lives and 38% of people have volunteered in the last 12 months.
However, these statistics don’t consider that volunteering can have a positive impact upon a volunteer and therefore increase their work-related skills and their future economic contribution to society. This is often identified as being particularly important for young people in terms of making them stand out from the crowd in a busy job market, but with so many of us working for longer and in a changing world where a job is no longer ‘for life’ we can use volunteering as an entry into a new area of employment.
Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a drop-in centre can help reduce loneliness and isolation. Personal well-being: Whilst much focus is placed on the benefits of volunteering to the organisations with whom they volunteer and society generally, as we have highlighted already, the benefits to the individual engaged in volunteering are also important to note. According to the Mental Health Foundation volunteering can bring psychological as well as physiological benefits. When you help others, it promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness. Being a part of a social network leads to a feeling of belonging. Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a drop-in centre can help reduce loneliness and isolation. Doing things for others helps maintain good health. Positive emotions reduce stress and boost our immune system, and in turn can protect us against disease. Finally, seeing the benefits of our volunteering, such as a happy group of young people or a clean field after a litter pick, can help us feel satisfied in a job well done. So much so that many people who research volunteering challenge the idea of altruism, as the act of helping makes us feel good and therefore can not really be said to be truly altruistic.
In turn, a population with better psychological and physiological health will make fewer calls on public resources such as the NHS which will financially benefit the country. There will also be fewer sick days taken, thus impacting positively on organisations economic productivity.
Diversity of volunteering opportunities
The NHS and associated charity groups offer a wide diversity of volunteering opportunities. A recent search of opportunities within one health board produced the following diverse range of voluntary roles:
- Pharmacy Assistant
- Endoscopy Administrator
- League of Friends Tea Trolley/Bar
Volunteering Additional Resources:
The Do-it website: A comprehensive source of volunteering opportunities in the UK, which can be searched by postcode and sector. A search will return lists of relevant sector volunteering opportunities within the geographical area you provided.
The #iwill website: A resource for young adults looking to volunteer.
Elliott, L. (2014). Putting a value on volunteering in the age of austerity. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2014/dec/21/volunteering-economic-value-wellbeing-austerity
Holdsworth, C. (2015). The cult of experience: standing out from the crowd in an era of austerity. Royal Geographical Society, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12201
McGarvey, A., Jochum, V., Davies, J., Dobbs, J., & Hornung, L. (2019). Time well spent: A national survey on the volunteer experience. London.
Prouteau, L., & Wolff, F.-C. (2008). On the relational motive for volunteer work. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(3), 314–335. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2007.08.001
The Mental Health Foundation. (2019). Dedicated to finding and addressing the sources of mental health problems. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/
The National Health Service. (2016). 70 years of life saving blood donations. Retrieved February 25, 2019, from https://www.blood.co.uk/news-and-campaigns/news-and-statements/70-years-of-life-saving-blood-donations