Making sure everyone who wants to volunteer can do so

National volunteer database brings volunteers and organisations together

Volunteer James Gilleran at the launch in 2020 of Daffodil Day,  fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society.  Photograph:  Nick Bradshaw

Volunteer James Gilleran at the launch in 2020 of Daffodil Day, fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

With a strong impact on our health and wellbeing, it’s a wonder why we all don’t offer our time, services, financial support, or lend a hand to a stranger more often.

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Charities and organisations are calling out for us to take on unique volunteering opportunities and support them. With that said, Ireland has a strong track record when it comes to giving up our time, energy and spare euros for others.

According to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) World Giving Index, we are number one in Europe and fifth worldwide in terms of giving our time, help and financial support. However, this 10th edition report also notes that giving has decreased across the globe – and despite our high score, our trend in giving, fluctuated more year-on-year than the other top-10 countries. There is no clear trend over time when it comes to our commitment towards volunteering and giving.

While volunteering may have hit various unforeseen bumps in the road over the years – and particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic – there can be no doubt that volunteers provide crucial supports to many charities and that our time and backing is needed now more than ever. Volunteers bring fresh skills, new perspectives and encourage a vibrant community spirit.

Amy Woods, communications and advocacy manager for Volunteer Ireland
Amy Woods, communications and advocacy manager for Volunteer Ireland

“The volunteer sector is definitely changing with the needs of volunteers now very different to what they were 10 years ago,” says Amy Woods, communications and advocacy manager for Volunteer Ireland. As the national volunteer development organisation, it is a support body for all local volunteer centres and volunteering information services in Ireland. With the belief that we can fulfil our potential through volunteering, its goal is to ensure that anyone who wants to volunteer, can volunteer.

With little research on the Irish volunteer market, Volunteer Ireland is aiming to change how we see and understand the sector.

“Unfortunately, there is very little data on volunteering in Ireland outside of our own database. The most recent CSO figures are from 2013 which show that 28 per cent of those over 15 years of age, volunteer. There will be a question on the next census in 2022, but that data is still a few years away.”

However, Woods tells us that volunteer demographics have generally held steady over the last number of years.

“On i-vol.ie, the national volunteering database, the age and nationality demographics have been fairly consistent. In 2019, the largest cohort of volunteers were those aged between 22 and 35 (44 per cent) and they have represented the largest group for several years now. Of those registered, 38 per cent are non-Irish nationals and that has risen very slightly over the last number of years.”

Our changing attitudes to volunteering have created a new model consisting of short-term volunteering. For charities and organisations in need of volunteers, this can create additional challenges.

“Short-term volunteering has come to the forefront in recent years whether that be short-term commitments, once-off volunteering or ad hoc volunteering,” says Woods. “Volunteer needs are changing and what people want more of is roles where they don’t have to commit to long periods of time or to a certain number of hours each week. They want roles to be more flexible to suit their lifestyles. This presents a real challenge for organisations.

“One of the common misconceptions is that volunteering is free but for organisations that’s not true. They invest time and resources in recruiting, managing and supporting volunteers which is why short-term volunteering can be more difficult. For example, some roles require specific training such as helpline volunteers or first responders, so organisations must commit time and resources to training volunteers and ask for this same commitment in return.

“However, there are many organisations that have already adapted to the changing needs of volunteers by introducing short-term roles especially in skilled areas like communications and IT. There are also a lot of volunteer roles that lend themselves to being short term such as volunteering at local events and festivals, or once-off fundraising events such as Daffodil Day or Lollipop Day. The advance of virtual volunteering has also helped in this regard. From projects such as the 1916 letter transcriptions to apps like Be My Eyes, there are a lot of options out there now.”

Many roles

Fiona O’Neill volunteers at county level as the secretary of the Kilkenny branch of Arthritis Ireland and at a local level as the secretary of the village community park and playground. When her son was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, there was no formal group in Kilkenny to provide support, advice and represent people living with arthritis and fibromyalgia. Along with a small group of people, she established the Kilkenny branch of Arthritis Ireland.

O’Neill recognises that although you don’t receive a wage to volunteer as you would do in a business, a volunteering team is still in essence a business. This means roles are varied with many requiring certain skills which need support at a professional level.

“Money management and financial books must be kept, AGMs and minutes are kept, marketing, PR and media skills are needed when promoting events or creating awareness of services,” she says. “These are just some of the roles within a volunteering unit that could be filled with less stress if training was provided or companies with these skills engaged with volunteers to give advice.”

Maintaining a strong cohort of volunteers lies with the supports available to volunteers from the charity or organisation which can be limited due to a lack of funding and resources. However, volunteers want to help; they want to share their skills and knowledge in increasing awareness, fundraising, supporting others and being a champion for their charities cause.

“Many large corporations in Ireland encourage their staff, under the company’s policy of social and corporate responsibility, to volunteer and they give their staff time off during their working week to volunteer in the community,” says O’Neill. “This should be more widespread among all companies, big or small. Volunteering has so many benefits emotionally and psychologically. Giving back to the community, helping others, knowing you’re making a difference in society has a knock-on impact in reducing stress levels and anxiety.”

Recognising the commitment many are giving and the challenges they may face in providing their time means organisations should be in tune with their volunteers.

“Organisations need to think outside the box to ensure they are not left behind,” explains Woods.

- Looking for volunteer opportunities? i-vol.ie is the national searchable database of volunteering opportunities in Ireland and is managed by Volunteer Ireland and the network of volunteer centres across Ireland. 

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- Engaging young volunteers
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- Do you want to volunteer?

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