How Volunteering has Changed

I’ve been volunteering since 2006 and as we begin a new decade its clear to see the volunteer sector in the UK has changed, both in terms of the time people can commit to volunteering, but also how the charity sector needs to adapt to changing people and technology.

I saw an advert in my local paper calling for volunteers at the hospital radio station back in 2006 and that’s where my volunteer journey began. I had plenty of time to get stuck in, collecting requests, hosting programmes, attend public addresses and outside broadcasts. Heck, one Saturday I was at the studio from 07:00 to 23:00 hosting programmes, producing programmes and everything in between.

But over the years, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to put so much effort into the station due to family, work commitments and life in general. I began volunteering for another charity in 2015, this time on a national level and have come to realise time is another element I don’t have.

I’ve not quit these volunteer roles, but I have had to take stock and step back. At my local hospital radio station, I now host two programmes as and when I can, one of them soon to be syndicated to others to help fill schedules. Nationally, I’m a Trustee and Comms Exec – for the latter, I’ve delegated my creative workload to the team, so I can focus more on strategic planning, which fits in with my time.

Sadly a lack of volunteers across the UK is abundant. With everyone’s time so stretched, priorities change and the rise in technology giving people the ability to binge watch TV rather than give something back, it’s tough to recruit volunteers across all ages.

An interesting survey from NCVO back in 2018 highlights why people volunteer and why they stop. They volunteer to do good and stop due to time commitments (amongst other things). There are also barriers that stop people from volunteering, including having work commitments.

And this is where I believe the charity sector needs to adapt. It needs to realise that people can’t give up endless hours of time, especially young people, but it needs to find ways where people can either work remotely from home, or spare perhaps one or two hours a week.

I know this will be different and challenging depending on what volunteer role you’re undertaking, but say you’re volunteering in a shop – providing you can get enough volunteers, two hours a day per volunteer might be more viable than relying on 1 volunteer for an entire day.

The same with hospital radio stations – if someone can only spend an hour a day, or even a week volunteering, then that time is valuable not only to them, but to your station. Perhaps get them collecting requests for an hour, or tidying up your admin, chasing up those calls you haven’t had chance to follow up.

It’s vital that young people continue to volunteer in the third sector, after all, they are the future of charities, but the only way you’ll encourage them is by being innovative, knowing they might not be able to give up a lot of time in terms of hours per week and indeed, may only stay with you for 6 months to a year. Give them tasks or roles that will fulfill the amount of time they can commit that fulfills the needs of your charity. You’ll then both benefit. 

But what charities and organisations in the third sector should never underestimate is the fact that someone wants to volunteer; wants to give something back to the community, regardless of how much time they can commit.

And it’s the fact they want to volunteer and give something back to the community that is priceless.