In simple terms there are just three ways that volunteers can make a difference: they can improve infrastructure, help make the organisation more effective, or they can provide direct support to service users.
Improving infrastructure can be achieved by providing funding or by providing manual labour in the form of volunteers. Third sector organisations are usually underfunded for the maintenance of their buildings or grounds, with few exceptions. The value of helping organisations with their grounds and buildings reaches far beyond the aesthetic. It shows service users that people care and well-appointed buildings and gardens have a positive influence on the esteem and wellbeing of service users. 95% of the organisations we speak with simply want a group of people to roll up their sleeves and help with some basic physical tasks.
Many third sector organisations are lightly staffed with focus on service delivery. Taking a little time out to help the leadership work on their business model can therefore be extremely helpful when done well. Leaving the organisation with a lengthy to do list is worthless so this direction needs forward thinking on what support can be provided to deliver some of the work. A small improvement on how an organisation works can make a big difference to the service users.
Working directly with service users can be extremely rewarding and when well managed can give staff a little time to work on other matters that they have not had the time to tackle. Whether it’s with the elderly, mental health, young people or the immigrant community, working with service users improves colleagues’ understanding of issues affecting our communities and can make a real difference. It brings a change in faces, fresh energy and a belief that people care. It can push volunteers outside their comfort zone but that is the great thing about personal growth. There are safeguarding issues to be managed but in most cases DBS checks will not be required.
Above all, volunteering makes a difference by focussing on what the third sector organisation needs, and in most cases it is all of the above.