This op-ed from Chief Executive Oonagh appeared on Third Sector’s website for Volunteers’ Week 2019.

Volunteers’ Week gives us an opportunity once a year to stress and celebrate the value of volunteering. But we should be celebrating, every day of the year, the millions of people in the UK who volunteer!

We know, from our own research, surveys and case studies about the tremendous reciprocal value of volunteering. It transforms lives; the life of the beneficiary and the life of the volunteer. We believe that volunteering improves health and well-being, combats social isolation, helps people of all ages gain confidence and resilience and increases employability skills.

At Volunteering Matters, we believe that everyone can volunteer. We just have to find the right opportunity for them. Our volunteers are helping some of the most vulnerable individuals, families and communities in the UK; but they are helping them to take their place in society, to improve their own lives, to gain agency and independence.

In order to create positive, long-term impact through volunteering, being strategic is more vital than ever. These difficult financial times for charities should be seen as an opportunity for collaboration and partnership. We need to work together to develop volunteering opportunities that help us all. For example, we are actively looking for charities that can deploy our Full-Time Volunteers. These are young people from the UK, other EU countries and non-EU countries to volunteer for 6 or 9 months or a year. They need accommodation and pocket money; we train and manage them. Most of our young volunteers want to work with young people, older people or in the sports, heritage and environmental sectors – and in the case of sports, heritage and environment there simply aren’t the opportunities for them.

We also need to focus on working in closer collaboration with corporates. As a sector we must provide employee volunteering opportunities, which fit in not just with people’s jobs, but also their personal lives; we also need to be both more flexible and imaginative. Our Volunteering Matters’ experience is that employee volunteers don’t want time intensive activities; but will give up an hour to run a workshop for a charity using their professional skills; or be an online mentor once a week to make a huge difference in the life of a young person.

Happily, despite cuts to local authority funding, we are still working with lots of local authorities; and we are proud that our volunteers are key to the delivery of care services. Whether complementing the work of social services supporting young adults, by providing additional support needs; being a mentor to a young person leaving care; or providing a positive role model for a youngster at school, just to give a few examples.

Ultimately, matching the aspirations and skills of the volunteer with the right cause is key to what we deliver: and at the centre of this is making sure volunteers are happy: volunteering improves the health of older people, a benefit which can’t be under-estimated.  This includes better general health, more access to company and social activities, and just enjoying the fact that they get out more. Beneficiaries say exactly the same thing; our Sporting Chance programmes focus on older men who have felt isolated for whatever reason. They join for the company and the sports activities but soon find they are volunteering to run sports sessions and other activities.

The future of volunteering is healthy and thriving but we need more of it; and that public sector, corporate and voluntary sector collaboration might just be the magic ingredient!