The Value of Volunteering | Depaulcharity

The Value of Volunteering | Depaulcharity

Depaul helps people who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

The Value of Volunteering

By Nick Sinclair - 21 April 2017


Many charities say that they couldn’t do what they do without the input of volunteers. 

At Depaul UK this statement certainly rings true. We only have to think of Depaul’s Nightstop and Get up and Go provision, neither of which could exist without volunteers. 

However at Depaul, we also fundamentally believe that we shouldn’t do what we do without volunteers.  This is because we recognise the enormous value that comes from the special relationships that volunteers form as a result of their work. 

It is hard to quantify the difference and impact this makes - but it is significant. Overall in 2016, we were fortunate to receive more than 70,000 hours of volunteer time from some 411 individuals volunteering at Depaul UK in some capacity across the organisation. This was an increase from 234 people in 2015. 

It is truly inspiring to see the growth of input from volunteers across this organisation. 

Much of this is down to the impressive work of our regional Programmes Teams who have been working very hard with their local colleagues to improve the ways Depaul UK supports and celebrates volunteers. 

However, I am convinced that the growth is down in the most part to our volunteers themselves promoting and sharing the work they do.

Our volunteers are without doubt the best advert for volunteering at Depaul. It is a task for all of us at Depaul to develop an organisation where volunteers have the best possible experience, support and resources at hand to bring their work to life. 

If we can get that right, volunteer recruitment looks after itself. A glowing testimony from a Depaul volunteer to a prospective volunteer beats an expensive volunteer marketing campaign any day of the week.

The young people we support have told me in the past that the input of volunteers is meaningful for them not just because they recognise it means we are able to provide additional and enhanced services, but because the volunteer is giving up their time for free. 

Everyone volunteers for different reasons, but one reason that is common to all is that they want to see young people flourish and achieve their potential. 

Our volunteers tell me that this is very much part of the reward they seek. This can be a truly powerful and moving thing for people to understand but for those new to the concept of volunteering, “working for free” can also seem strange in the first instance. 

Recently I’ve been writing some guidelines around how we can increase the involvement of those who access our services in the delivery of our mission. 

One of the main ways Depaul can do this is by providing greater opportunity for young people to volunteer in and around the services they access.

This got me thinking more about how I would explain the value of volunteering to someone who had never given it any consideration.

I started my volunteering career when I was 19 at Aberdeen University for a student listening and information service called Nightline. I did it because a friend of mine who was volunteering for the project told me he thought I’d be good at it and it would be “a good thing for me to do”. 

As I was very preoccupied at the time in doing things that were not particularly good for me to do, I thought I’d give it a shot - and I loved it. By the time I left Aberdeen, I was co-leading the Nightline service with that same friend.  I’ve never looked back and still volunteer regularly today albeit in different capacities and in a different organisation. 

My coach Carolyn often says to me “remember the WIFM factor” and by this she means “what is in it for me”?  This is something that I regularly discuss with the Programmes Team when they are working with volunteers and young people in developing and planning the Get up and Go Programme. 

It is a really important question, and the first one I attempted to tackle in the guidelines I was writing. It is simply not sufficient to tell someone that volunteering is a good thing just because it is; we need to support people to explore why that is the case in the context of our own lives, hopes and ambitions.   

For me, I was fortunate enough to have a peer who was able to see a glimmer of potential in me and convinced me to get involved, but it wasn’t something I’d given much thought to prior to that.

So, what is in it for people? Why would anyone give up their time for free?  It is a very sensible question for people to be asking particularly as the term continues to lose meaning for example with recent confusion around volunteering and workfare programmes.   

I’m not going to list generic reasons why here, but I’ve always found volunteering to be an incredibly helpful way to meet people, gain confidence and to feel better about myself and my place in a community. 

Supporting those we work with to explore the benefits of social action and volunteering in the context of their own lives is a big strategic ambition in work of Depaul going forward. 

We’ve gone so far as to recruit three regional “Get volunteering” Coordinators whose roles are to support young people to get volunteering both in Depaul and in their local communities. 

Needless to say our current volunteers are also playing a massive role in bringing this new work to life, showing the way through their own practice and by leading group and one to one sessions.

I am confident that Depaul can only grow and benefit from the time, skills and knowledges of those accessing our services becoming volunteers within the organisation. 

I am equally confident that, like me, those individuals will grow and benefit from their experience as well. This is the true beauty of volunteering.

With proper thought, structure and support it really can work for everyone. I am very fortunate to work for an organisation that is able to benefit from some of the most talented and dedicated volunteers from both our local and international communities.

I am now very excited to see now how we can involve those we work with in a more meaningful and powerful way for all involved.

Watch this space!

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