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Volunteering with Big Local

How to embrace the opportunities!

September 2014

Volunteering is about offering your time and energy for something you care about. Volunteering offers you the opportunity to:

  • help others and make a difference in your community
  • try something new and interesting
  • meet new people and make friends
  • build up your confidence
  • be part of a team
  • learn new skills and/or utilise the skills you have
  • improve your job prospects
  • feel useful and valued.

Big Local areas may want to involve volunteers because it provides a way of getting new and different people in the community involved. Volunteering gives people opportunities to develop skills and also uses people’s existing skills locally. By investing in volunteers who can offer their time and energy, this may also save money spent on Big Local projects in the longer-term.

Volunteering with Big Local

Big Local is unique in its long-term nature and the variety of aspirations it supports. As such, it is creating a huge range of volunteering opportunities, which will continue to grow as Big Local areas bring their plans to life.

Volunteering is at the heart of what Big Local is about. The goodwill and energy of residents is an essential part of making areas even better places in which to live. There are lots of opportunities to participate in Big Local, ranging from roles such as being a member of a Big Local partnership or steering group, helping out at events or being on a community chest panel. Whatever the nature of the volunteering role, every contribution is a valuable and important part of making Big Local happen.

This case study explores how it is possible to create, structure and support volunteering roles to ensure that they are rewarding.

To hear about people’s experiences of volunteering please see our case studies which include the experience of a resident who volunteers as vice-chair in a Big Local area, a volunteer run play scheme and a volunteer run community garden.

Volunteer centres – a local source of support and expertise

We talked to Joanne Patel who runs the Volunteer Centre at Haringey Association of Voluntary and Community Organisations (HAVCO) to learn more about what volunteer centres can offer communities and how to create and structure volunteering opportunities. HAVCO is the locally trusted organisation for Noel Park Big Local.

There are volunteer centres all over the country and they provide support and expertise within the local community to potential volunteers, existing volunteers and organisations that involve volunteers. They can particularly help with:

  • training sessions on how to structure volunteering opportunities
  • supporting good practice in volunteering
  • managing volunteers
  • volunteer recruitment.

Joanne shared some key learning for Big Local around working with and supporting volunteers which we have shared below.

How to source volunteers

Part of the challenge of Big Local can sometimes be about finding people who would like to get involved in some way. And as Big Local is resident-led, areas will continue to need volunteers with different qualities and skills at different points of the Big Local journey.

For people wanting to volunteer with Big Local:
There is something to suit everybody’s skills, abilities and motivations through volunteering. In Noel Park Big Local they have been looking for volunteer translators so that everyone in their Big Local area can understand their messages and communications. These sorts of roles can be fulfilled from home at any time, which is an example of how flexible volunteering opportunities can be.

  • There are a huge range of possibilities to volunteer in Big Local, from supporting a volunteer run play scheme in the school holidays, or helping to run events, to using particular skills such as website design and book keeping.
  • If you would like to volunteer, think about your personal qualities and what you’re good at to explore how you could use these.

To recruit volunteers:
Volunteer centres can be a great source of help by providing volunteer matching services. These services find volunteers with the right qualities to match to a particular role.

  • Find your local volunteer centre, get in touch with them and tell them that you are hoping to take on new volunteers and for what role. They should be able to advertise on your behalf, and introduce people to you to see if the role will work for that person.
  • Think creatively about how to make best use of your own and other people’s contacts and connections to use word-of-mouth to recruit people too.

Motivations for volunteering

We asked Joanne about her experiences at HAVCO to learn more about why people volunteer:

  • Everybody comes at volunteering with different motivations – the key is to tap into these and make an effort to understand them.
  • Many people volunteer to give something back to the community.
  • People may use volunteering to meet new people.
  • Volunteering can also help people back into work by building up useful experiences or skills for CVs, or by providing a route to getting employment references.
  • Volunteering can help towards building confidence, so that can be positive for people whose self-esteem might be low.

Whatever motivates people to begin volunteering, if they are going to continue being involved it is important they enjoy their experience. As Joanne says:

“What’s really underrated when it comes down to it, is people coming along and volunteering and enjoying it, perhaps trying something new, or meeting new people they’ve never met before. Those softer things can be just as important as writing CVs and things.”

How to make volunteering experiences rewarding

Joanne’s experience in supporting and developing volunteer programmes has given her some valuable insights into how to approach the creation of volunteer roles:

“You have to think through – ‘well if I was going to do that, would it be rewarding, what would I get out of it?’ Volunteering in an ideal world should be a two-way street. So while someone is giving something to you, they should get something back in return. Whether that is being able to see the difference they’re making or making sure they feel appreciated, make sure you thank them in the right way so they don’t feel they’re being taken advantage of, and make the environment fun.”

Some other tips from Joanne about how to make volunteering roles rewarding are:

  • Always try to include an explanation of the purpose and the difference the role would make. This should be part of the role description so that people understand that what they are doing is valuable, even if it’s only a small part of a much bigger picture.
  • For a successful role, having a clearly defined list of tasks you would like support with can help at the beginning, but you may also need to be flexible so that these can change in response to what people would like to do.
  • If some tasks within a role don’t seem very fun, explore whether they can be combined with some other tasks to make the role more interesting.
  • If you want to link volunteering opportunities with people’s aspirations, tell them what they can get out of that role so they can see it as a two-way street.

Organising volunteering

Since the volunteering opportunities created through Big Local can be very diverse, the degree of organisation and support for each role required may be different:

  • If you want people to help for one day at an event this may require less long-term planning and development, although you may need to look at health and safety, paying expenses and ensuring volunteers have some clear instructions to help support them on the day.
  • If you are planning on your volunteers being involved on more of a long-term basis you may need to think about how you are going to help them learn and develop. Considering possible training and other development opportunities you can offer may help your volunteers to stay motivated.
  • Plan to capture what the volunteer journey is going to look like so you can communicate this effectively.
  • Many people may want to volunteer by just giving a little bit of time when they can and that is just as useful and just as valid. Volunteering does not need to mean a huge commitment and there are just as many opportunities to create these kinds of roles too.

As Joanne says:

"The more you put into planning up-front and being clear, the more your volunteers are going to get out of it and the smoother their journey will be. Ultimately, they will be much happier to help you if they have a clear understanding of what is expected and what might change over time."

More information

You can find out more about volunteering opportunities and volunteer centres near you from the following websites:

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