Volunteering is on the rise with over a majority of the population in the United Kingdom being involved in some kind of charity work. By volunteering, people can give something of themselves and make a valuable contribution to the community while perhaps learning new skills and improving their health and well-being. On the flip side, charities that use volunteers for their operations are equally enthusiastic about what volunteers bring to their organisations.
Volunteers are not only beneficial to charities as some of them rely on volunteers for the delivery of services or for their daily operations. Some volunteers can be incidental to the operation of some charitable organisations while others would not be able to function without them. A recent study by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations reported that 91 per cent of the charities registered in the United Kingdom have no paid staff and are run by volunteers.
Charities can reduce their operating costs when using volunteers. While the value of some tasks performed by volunteers cannot be measured financially, the costs of hiring a full-time employee as opposed to using one full-time or several part-time volunteers can. Not only would a charity have to pay a full-time employee for their work but would also need to incorporate the costs of benefits for that employee. In addition, volunteers may be willing to work on holidays, such as Christmas which can be the loneliest for the elderly and others who are isolated from their friends and families, whereas employees of any type may not. Besides, if they were asked to do so, these days would be considered overtime, thereby incurring an even greater financial burden for a charity.
Volunteers can also increase the quality of services or programs that a charity provides. Often, a charity seeks to offer a specific kind of service or program and having volunteers can supplement the services and programs that are offered by a charity. A charity may also want to offer a service which it currently does not provide but does not have the skills in-house to do so. By using volunteers with those skills who can provide those additional services or programs, a charity can make available services or levels of services that otherwise they may not have been able to provide.
Volunteers often have specialized skills which in-house staff may not possess. It could be expertise with computer technology to get the charity better organised and running more smoothly, knowledge of the law or having expertise in psychology and socialisation which can be of benefit to working with the clients of the charity. Often volunteers can also pay more detailed attention to the people they are serving as they are volunteering for this specific task and so can devote their entire attention to it.
Charities can benefit most from volunteers when they follow some guidelines with regards to recruiting and retaining them. The first involves preparation and planning how volunteers are to be managed and supported. Every volunteer needs some form of training and those who will be volunteering on a long-term basis will require a greater such investment. The staff also needs to be trained in how to manage volunteers and building effective volunteer leadership.
When recruiting volunteers, it is important that volunteers are clear about their roles. A written description should be used that includes their duties and time commitments. Volunteers should be inspired with an explanation of how their role contributes to the wider goals of the organisation.
While volunteers may be respected for giving something back to the community they should also be recognized for their on-going contributions and how their service has been important to the charity they serve.