Certain situations and events can prompt us to volunteer and want to help out.
An urgent local, national or even international occurrence, like a war or a natural disaster can inspire people, who may only learn about it on the news, to take action and be keen to find ways they can help.
Collecting provisions, raising money, sending aid are all ways people feel they’re able to offer their time and support. Recently, it’s been estimated that 7 million people in the UK volunteer at least once a month.
And even locally, whether there’s a family in need or a local accident or crisis occurs it can motivate others into helping, wanting to resolve the situation and do whatever they can to make things better.
But equally, a celebratory national event, like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games or the 2023 Coronation of King Charles III can require volunteers to help manage the crowds and do the fetching and carrying, something many people enjoy doing.
Being given a T-shirt and, even years later, being able to say, ‘I was there’, means a lot to many people. The 2023 Coronation has approximately 1500 charities involved, all requiring people to help.
Many charities rely on their volunteers as they often have only sufficient funds to pay their overheads and the staff who manage, co-ordinate and oversee the running of their sanctuary, charity shops, fund-raising or admin centre. Paid staff often receive significant salaries, certainly at senior management level.
Do we even realise how many parts of our lives are supported by volunteers?
Hospital trusts, school governors, scouts, cubs and brownies, community radio, many social support groups delivering help and support to the community, and fun interest groups like amateur dramatics all require regular assistance, often found in volunteer form.
So, why volunteer?
Some people may have finished their career, have time on their hands, don’t need to earn a wage and are looking for a fulfilling way to spend their free time. They may have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they’re willing to share for free. Giving back and helping others are important factors for many people when they decide to volunteer. There’s often a significant feel-good factor to helping others when there’s no financial reward. Giving your time, energy, skill set and enthusiasm, either intermittently or on a regular basis, can benefit your feelings of wellbeing and satisfaction.
Learning a new skill can be a positive outcome from being a volunteer and certainly some people include their role and their volunteering experience on their CV when applying for a new job. It can be especially relevant for young people to demonstrate their versatility and willingness to help others. They may, over time, be given responsibilities that add value to the other areas of their life as well as their future employment prospects.
Having somewhere you need to be can be a major incentive to volunteering, especially if you’re not working and have too much free time on your hands. Knowing that people are relying on you to turn up and carry out a particular role can motivate you into getting up, washed and dressed, bringing a degree of relevance to your days.
Social skills often benefit when you’re a volunteer, becoming more confident as you’re required to converse with others. This can provide encouragement to become more engaged with what’s happening in the world and learn to share appropriately, to be empathic. Meeting and mixing with people on a regular basis, even if there are some people who you don’t particularly like, is an important skill to cultivate in modern adult life. Friendships can develop over the different tasks and there may perhaps follow an invitation to meet for a drink and develop the relationship.
Enjoy Your Home and Garden by Susan Leigh
Are there drawbacks to being a volunteer?
It’s important that an organisation relying on volunteers remembers to treat them well and respect their time and commitment. People running and co-ordinating teams of volunteers can sometimes forget that the people they’re managing care about what they’re doing, want to make a difference, but are not being paid for their efforts and can walk away at any time if they feel aggrieved.
Increasing pressure is sometimes applied to those who volunteer, ‘can you do more/extra because we’re short-staffed?’
Kind-hearted volunteers can feel guilty if they’re not able to do more when they can see what’s needed. But volunteers need to have a work-life balance and their role shouldn’t become a heavy burden.
It’s often the case that a handful of people end up doing the lion’s share of the work, which can ultimately result in good people walking away. They lose their joy in helping out and may well feel exhausted and burnt out, overwhelmed by something that originally started as a part-time hobby.
Recently some volunteer opportunities (like the May 2023 Coronation) have been set up on telephone apps, a factor which may deter older or less tech savvy people from signing up. Some excellent people may be missed as a consequence.
But we all rely on kind-hearted volunteers, often more than we realise. They keep many areas of life functioning well, whilst, at the same time, providing some valuable experiences, opportunities to give back to society and the potential to develop some positive relationships.
Susan Leigh, Counsellor & Hypnotherapist lifestyletherapy.net