Making the most of charity volunteers

  • Volunteering in the UK is reportedly at a ten-year high
  • Matching the supply of willing volunteers to the areas of greatest need can be challenging, and charities need to take best advantage of this available resource
  • We explore the issue of volunteering and the latest global trends in donating money

One of the most positive findings from the 2014 World Giving Index was a global increase – across every age group – in the number of people volunteering their time for charity, resulting in an additional 132 million volunteers worldwide year-on-year.

The Index, a survey of 135 countries published by the Charities Aid Foundation, found that 29% of people in the UK now volunteer. Separate studies suggest the number of volunteers here is at a ten-year high.

This willingness to give up time for others is receiving governmental support. The Conservatives’ election manifesto pledged an entitlement for public sector workers and those employed by companies with at least 250 employees, up to three days’ paid volunteering leave each year.

Matching supply and demand

Pam Webb is head of the Zurich Community Trust – a registered charity that awards more than £2 million in grants to more than 800 charities in the UK and overseas each year, and brokers 6,500 days of employee volunteering each year.

She says that while the concept of incorporating volunteering opportunities in law is admirable, the challenge for charities will be how to match volunteers with the right skills, in the right numbers, with those charities that need their help.

“It’s not enough for businesses to say ‘we’re happy for employees to have time off to volunteer’, unless they also encourage volunteering and put some dedicated resource to direct employees to brokerage schemes, to ensure help is offered where it’s needed,” she explains.

Audience research

Organisations that help match volunteers with volunteering opportunities do exist and include Involve Swindon and the Cranfield Trust. But the amount of available help differs considerably from one part of the country to another.

“If you are not in an area where you have that kind of volunteering portal, it’s very difficult,” says Pam. “Charities will need to invest time in researching organisations that have taken up the pledge to volunteer.”

A nation of givers

The World Giving Index backs up the UK’s reputation as a nation of givers. The 2014 report found that 74% of people donate money to charity, placing the UK fourth globally in its ranking.

While impressive, this is a slight drop from 76% in 2013, and along with the rest of the world, it seems that the percentage of young people donating has fallen – a global drop to 21.3%, its lowest point since the Index was launched in 2010.

Charities need to invest time in researching organisations that have taken up the pledge to volunteer

Pam Webb, Head of the Zurich Community Trust

Pam says that while such findings make the Index a “really useful overall insight”, it reveals little about what motivates people to donate, or how they choose to donate – which is what charities really need to know.

Engaging with young audience

Charities may find it worthwhile to conduct their own research. In 2013 the Zurich Community Trust researched how to better engage with a younger audience.

“We’ve moved on from paper giving and our research showed that our younger donors are less inclined to donate through payroll giving,” says Pam.

“It made us sit up and think, and since then we’ve put more emphasis on promoting the giving methods younger people like. For example, for our main fundraising events now donations can be made instantly via online giving sites, accessible via printed QR codes for mobile devices and we also invite donations via text messaging.”

While global and national trends can give charities an idea of the opportunities and challenges faced by the sector as a whole, individual organisations should also be prepared to do their own homework, in order to understand how best to interact with existing and potential donors and volunteers.

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