The first week of June was dedicated to celebrate the work of millions of volunteers across the UK. Similar celebrations are seen in other countries: the National Volunteer Week in Australia, Canada and Scotland; and the Obair Dheonach Éireann in Ireland, for example.
It is impressive how much work is done in the third sector through volunteers. The figures speak for themselves: GlobalGiving UK has a ratio of 10% staff to 90% volunteers. Citizen’s Advice reported that in 2016 “volunteers gave an estimated £114m of worth of time“.
Volunteering can serve many purposes. It can be a stepping stone to enter the development sector. I recently had the opportunity to listen to Bo Sundström, head of EU Programmes & Finance at the UK Department for International Development (DfID). He was a guest speaker at a training event for the GlobalGiving Evaluation Program in June.
He explained that his career started as a financial controller in Sweden, but he managed to volunteer as a ‘side career’. From the controller position, he transitioned to a brilliant path in international development, working for the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, before joining DfID. He did not say that, but my interpretation of the facts was that his previous work as a volunteer was a key factor to a smooth job transition.
Volunteering is also a way to really get to know a country. Tom Ashcroft, a GlobalGiving Evaluation Program alumni, used his blog to share his views on how volunteering afforded him a chance to “really get under the skin of a country” combining travelling with “a greater sense of purpose“. After staying in Kenya and India, Tom has recently arrived in Mongolia to volunteer with a nomadic family.
If you are not intending to join the development world, or to live among the nomads, volunteering is still a valid option and combining your daily job with activities that can make a difference to non-profits is possible.
It is true that today many companies do have their own volunteering and community ‘outreach’ programs. Law firms normally run pro-bono activities, tech companies tend to support programming courses and financial institutions sometimes provide mentoring to SMEs. However, although there are many people willing to donate their time and skills, my impression is that there is still room for improving the ways volunteering can be more ’embedded’ in our daily careers.
In fact, it is almost funny to note that there is ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ for volunteering, but they seem not to fully meet. A report produced by the research and creative agency ‘Achieve’ in 2015 measured the volunteering potential of millennials – which comprise the age group born between 1980 and 2000 – and concluded that they are not only open to volunteering (something like 70% of millennials volunteer their time each year), but they would do so particularly if they could leverage their skills during the experience:
“Most Millennial employees volunteer between 1 and 10 hours a year. These are employees who will get the most from programs like company-wide days of service. Since we also found that Millennial employees are more likely to volunteer if they can leverage their skills or expertise, companies should incorporate skills-based volunteering to increase participation and maximize the value of the volunteer experience”
There are many ways that your ‘career skills‘ can help to match supply and demand for volunteering. Take the private sector for example. An auditing company could support charities with organising and providing them with independent financials. Considering that most funding applications require at least independent audit reports, this is a real need for many non-profits. Bankers could use their knowledge to help designing microfinance programs or to give valuable insights to social business concerning long-term sustainability. Insurers could help building resilience to non-profits and their recipients by developing new products, such as micro-insurance for example, that are more tailored to the reality of the third-sector. Lawyers are crucial to secure access to justice and, in today’s digital world, marketers and communications professionals are essential for social media impact and online brand awareness.
Doing fundraising for a charity, I soon learned that we should always be on the look out for potential partners for the charity. It is something I referred to in my previous blog: mapping your network so you can identify potential donors or partners that your organisation can benefit from. But why not reverse the reasoning? Why not expect from private companies (and universities as well) to do the same and identify local organisations that need support and research? There are many ‘transferrable skills’ used in our daily careers that can transform the realities of small charities and organisations. Making this strategy consistent, not promotional and part of the ‘business as usual‘ would really embody the purposes of corporate social responsibility.
If you want to kick-start yourself, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer remotely. The UN keeps an online platform with various opportunities, ranging from translation services, research, art & design, strategy, technology development and marketing, just to name a few. It is just a matter of applying. By doing so you will help ensure that supply meets demand for volunteering.