While we must not dismiss the tragedies associated with Covid-19, with ‘normal’ life beginning to resurface, we must also try to glean whatever positives we can from the last 18 months. I firmly believe that the rise in community spirit is something we can harness and use for good in the charity sector in the future and this is already reflected in volunteering transforming from an option to an exciting opportunity.
Volunteering has been an important part of both my corporate and personal lives for as long as I can remember. Volunteers have also served as the backbone of EmployabilityUK since the charity launched in 2014. Many of our most notable achievements were inspired by and delivered by unpaid contributors, and enthusiastic, talented individuals willing to contribute their time and expertise outnumber paid team members to this day.
The voluntary sector has changed due to the pandemic, and an unexpected consequence has been the rise in willing volunteers – whether they have more time to spare, or they’re looking for ways to maintain and improve their skills. This is an opportunity not to be missed by the third sector.
Who Is Volunteering and Why?
The pandemic has reinforced the importance of a work-life balance for many. This is a key insight to come out of the pandemic. People are achieving work life balance in many ways – more time to be creative, to spend with family etc. One of the ways they have achieved some balance is by volunteering. Opportunities they previously felt they did not have time for are now within their reach, whether that’s productively using time previously spent commuting, or contributing entire days to a cause which matters to them during a period of furlough. For those searching for work, volunteering represents a valuable addition to their CV and an impressive answer when asked during job interviews how they chose to spend their days during COVID.
Charities have struggled like all other organisations during the pandemic, but community spirit and an outpouring of support have aided the sector. More heads than ever before have been turned by the chance to make a difference and the realisation that they can do so in many different ways.
Even experienced professionals from beyond the third sector have spent many years believing that their charitable contributions could extend as far as either a financial contribution or donating their time to working in a charity shop. Now, almost everyone is accustomed to working from home and comfortable with doing so. This has resulted in many more professionals realising that charities have the same corporate requirements as businesses, and that virtually any skill can be valuable for a third sector organisation. From writing and graphic design to human resources and IT support, these skills are always in high demand.
Challenges and Opportunities
The surge in volunteer time, skills, and awareness that charities have experienced must be now be harnessed so we can all see the long-term benefits. But this can prove challenging without strong management and existing resources within an organisation.
At EmployabilityUK, we have sought to resource accordingly. Our goal with every new contributor is to provide a warm welcome and the tools, knowledge and support they require for a fulfilling experience. This has meant extensive overhauls to our onboarding process, production of guides and policies, and even organisational reshuffles.
While it goes without saying that we are wholly indiscriminate in taking on volunteers, we seek to bring aboard a broad selection of contributors, covering different ages and backgrounds. This is one manner in which a charity can truly benefit from voluntary contributions, through various opinions, ideas and working practices, all of which improve processes, project delivery and realising genuine achievements of which the entire organisation can be proud.
But of course, volunteering should never be a one-way street, and it’s important that those giving their time get back what they put in (and more), whether that’s the chance to learn new skills in a supportive environment, the sense of pride and self-worth gained, or the social benefits of being part of a good cause.
EmployabilityUK is a relatively modest charity in terms of size, but we utilise the resources we have available through volunteers and the core team to expand holistically. When a volunteer has IT experience, we improve our internal networking and communication. If a writer comes on board, we produce more content. Everyone we work with has the opportunity to take the charity in a positive direction and the vast majority enhance what we do beyond even their own expectations.
Making the Most of It
The pandemic was a time of negativity and reflection, but it has also served as a catalyst that the third sector cannot ignore. We have reached unprecedented levels of everyone from enthusiastic young people to seasoned professionals appreciating the difference they can make, and it is down to charitable organisations to capitalize on this increased availability.
Many more people now know that they can support a cause close to them beyond finances and manual labour. The adjustments in working culture have resulted in a generational opportunity for the third sector. Charities which are organised and focused on growth and making a real difference in their areas of activity stand to benefit the most, and there has never been a better time to capitalise on such a culture shift. I would urge everyone to consider giving back in a way that works for them.
About the Author:
Diane Vernon is the founder of EmployabilityUK, a charity dedicated to supporting young people from some of the most deprived areas of the country, giving them the skills, confidence and attitude to succeed in the workplace. More than 1,000 volunteers have supported the charity to date, and feedback shows 100% of respondents would recommend the charity – which was recently awarded a prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – as a great place to volunteer.
Their programmes include a variety of face-to-face and virtual sessions on everything from confidence-boosting to CV writing, and they’re also part of the Kickstarter scheme, as well as linking young people with businesses willing to act as mentors.
Visit www.employabilityuk.org for more information.