19th October 2020

Volunteering & the Economy – How to Help when Facing an Uncertain Financial Landscape

Amy Butt, Mentoring Administrative Assistant

More than ever, we are aware of the political, social and economic landscape we currently live in. With Covid-19 dominating the news, we are reminded daily of the effects of the pandemic, and the long-lasting impacts we are likely to face for years to come. With the world continuously changing and people facing the implications of a “new normal”, we begin to consider the support services that we may need through these challenging times; but what if the charitable organisations we look to are also finding their own way through these testing times?

Whilst the act of volunteering itself is free, and hugely beneficial to voluntary organisations, there are hidden costs in retaining volunteers – for example, reimbursements of travel, providing training, or, more recently, providing PPE (where necessary). Taking on volunteers is therefore a necessity, but one that comes with restrictions; by having volunteers there is less pressure on those who work in the charity sector (as well as the ability to reach out to a wider community), but there are also limitations on how many volunteers can be accepted because of economic strains. With this comes the challenge of being able to deliver the operations of the organisation with less staffing (both paid and volunteers) during a time when the charity is needed now more than ever. A recent example of how an organisation has retained tradition, whilst also adapting to the restrictions the voluntary world is currently facing, is the Macmillan Coffee Morning. Following the stance that “nothing stops a coffee morning”, Macmillan managed to continue its annual event by asking fundraisers to distribute baked goods through a cake-away or delivery service; raising funds by raising a mug from the comfort of your own home[1]. By using an extremely popular, ever-recognisable event, Macmillan has been able to show others how organisations can still bring people together, and advocate for their cause in a fun, yet similar way.

There is also the question of whether economic strains effect the behaviours of society and its response to volunteering. A way to answer this is to look at societal responses to economic crises in the past; namely the global recession of 2008. The London School of Economics (LSE) noted how England and Wales suffered from a ‘social recession’ as ‘formal volunteering declined sharply by 6% to its lowest level since 2001’ during the 2008-2011 period[2]. The most likely explanation for this was that the majority of individuals were facing economic hardships, and therefore saw a shift in their priorities – how could they spend time getting involved in other initiatives when they themselves needed to focus on sourcing much needed resources?

So how do charities overcome the trend of people needing more support when they themselves face less income and resources? Charities themselves need to be financially healthy in order to continue providing for those they aim to help, and so find themselves facing a difficult situation. One solution, which we have seen countless times since covid-19 emerged, is the support of the general public; particularly in the form of donations from those who can afford to help where they can. The most famous example of this came back in March 2020, as the nation came together to raise funds for Captain Tom’s NHS fundraiser. Other examples include the most recent version of the London Marathon (that saw people participate against all odds), and the University community coming together to raise funds for Chester Zoo back in June 2020 (helping the local charity as it was facing its biggest financial crisis in its 89 year history). Both the NHS and Chester Zoo Fundraiser saw people come together under a shared interest – a reactionary response to a crisis close to the heart of communities on a national and local scale. These examples also suggest that there are opportunities for charities to survive through the generosity of everyday people – but with so many charitable organisations out there, what determines which charities receive this attention? Harking back to the reactionary nature people have displayed, it looks like the answer comes in the form of two factors; the organisations that are most needed in a specific crisis (such as the NHS during a health crisis and Chester Zoo facing a financial crisis), and those that already have an established, far-reaching event (such as the Macmillan Coffee Morning and London Marathon – which, admittedly, raises funds for a number of charities).

This is in no way a criticism though; the generosity of the public when they themselves are experiencing difficulties is commendable, and it is thanks to this kindness that organisations can continue their operations despite hardships. This is also not to say that donations are the only way people can help organisations – there is still a call for volunteers and donations (besides monetary means) no matter what the social and economic state may be. It is through even the smallest of actions that individuals can make the biggest change and enable the support that so many want to offer to continue. There are also benefits of voluntary opportunities continuing through economic changes from an individual perspective; namely helping people gain much needed experience to develop and enhance their personal and professional skills. Volunteering not only allows you to help a cause you are passionate about, but it also helps you expand your network and put your skills into practice whilst also sharpening them. Volunteering is a great way to prove yourself, determine what your strengths are, and continuously widen your network.

So, whilst the economy directly effects the functions of organisations and, in turn, opportunities and volunteers, it also helps those who involve themselves with charitable initiatives to truly reflect and appreciate the opportunities they can still offer. When considering a charity’s relationship to the local and national economy, it helps us to view the prospects and support these organisations put on offer, despite the challenges they may face, in a new appreciative light. Volunteering during an economic and social crisis may be challenging, but it can also be rewarding - not only for your yourself, but for a network of people; including those you know, or even a complete stranger who just needs a helping hand. Thinking of the ever-changing world, and with the Christmas season slowly, but surely approaching, the Volunteering and Mentoring Team themselves are considering how to retain tradition, whilst also accommodating to the necessary changes. With this comes an exciting prospect; the delivery of the University’s first-ever ’12 Days of Kindness’. The University’s first-ever virtual ‘Do Good, Feel Good Festival’ and virtual Chester Zoo Fundraiser shows that this vision is not only possible, but has the potential to be successful – as the University community has shown time and time again to have the strength and compassion to come together and support others.


[2] Laurence, James. “The UK experienced a sharp drop in volunteering behaviour following the Great Recession”, The British Politics and Policy Blog for London School of Economics (LSE), August 16th  2015, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/drop-in-volunteering-post-recession/.

 

 

10th July 2020
Volunteering and Gaining Employment
Abbie Johns, Volunteer Administrator

“You are an employer of one of the largest organisations in the UK. An organisation that each year recruits only the very best graduates as employees. You have 2 CVs in front of you: in terms of grades, they are more or less identical candidates, but one of them has volunteered; they have developed skills, experience and networks that can help them as an employee.”

Which one would you choose?

Well, “90% of employers said that volunteering can have a positive effect on career progression” (V, 2008).

Volunteering can have so many benefits as an extra-curricular activity for both yourself and the community you volunteer in. Volunteering has been routinely advocated by the UK government as a key mechanism to secure employment. Given the current economy, and the current job market, this has never been more important.

Volunteering can offer participants the chance to develop new skills, extend networks, build CV’s and gain experience in areas new or important to them.

The area in which one chooses to volunteer doesn’t necessarily have to be directly related to their career aspirations. If, for example, a student wanted to work in the Youth sector after graduating, experience within this field would be beneficial, but volunteering in other areas could also develop their transferable employment skills. Volunteering in any area can build softer skills such as team work and communication; skills which are often viewed as important in the development of “work attitudes and behaviours” when employers are looking to recruit. Employers place great value on the skills that volunteering can enhance – such as teamwork, confidence and self-motivation – and graduates who highlight any voluntary work they have done will give themselves an edge over other candidates. It is important to volunteer in an area important or passionate to you, as it will make it easier to discuss in a CV or interview.

Those who hide their volunteering under a bushel risk missing out on the best jobs, as employers change the way they recruit too. As the competition for top talent grows, employers are increasingly moving away from recruiting for specific jobs, and instead seeking individuals with the relevant passion and enthusiasm that align with their company culture. So, for employers the real value of volunteering lies not just in the simple fact of having done voluntary work, but in the skills and traits that it helps to develop.

Regular volunteering (weekly or monthly) can benefit employment as this shows a commitment to a cause. It is crucial, however, that regular volunteering does not impact on studies. This is why we encourage students to think about volunteering when they first join university and inspire them to volunteer during University vacation periods. Often regular volunteering will affect the role and responsibilities given by a voluntary organisation. Employers have stated the level of responsibility given to a volunteer is highly rated, as this is often believed to be conducive of a higher quality experience.

Through our website we encourage students who are volunteering to record their volunteering hours. Although, employers are often looking for the quality of a volunteering experience gained rather than how many hours of volunteering have been achieved, the hours accumulated are still widely recognised to be an important indication of a student’s commitment. This is why we have selected volunteering hours as a marker for our UCV Awards system.

We also encourage students to record the skills they have developed through their volunteering on our website, which can be downloaded when they graduate and use towards our UCV Awards. 

We also offer our UCV (University of Chester Volunteering) awards system. This has been designed to not only offer students the chance to evaluate their skills and reflect on the impact of their volunteering at each level, but to also give them the opportunity to receive University of Chester accreditation for their volunteering (by listed on an undergraduate Higher Education Achievement Record (HEAR) and certification). Employers rated the ability to articulate the skills and experiences gained from volunteering as the most important aspect of volunteering. The UCV Awards are designed with this in mind.


The University of Chester’s Careers and Employability Team recognises the importance of volunteering and employability. The UCV Awards feature as points towards the Chester Difference Award; an award the Careers Team have developed to recognise various activities students can take part in whilst studying at the University of Chester to improve their employability. Results have shown that 98% of students became more employable through achieving this award.


It is important to remember that, although employability is a major benefit of volunteering, there are other advantages that can be gained through volunteering which are of major importance too; the biggest one is improving wellbeing, whether this is through meeting new people, getting involved in a new activity, building confidence, or just through the satisfaction of doing good – all are equally as important, and can benefit employability in a different way. 


When writing a CV or application make sure you don’t underestimate your volunteering and the skills you have earned. If you need advice on this, the University’s Careers and Employability Team can help you further. When applying for jobs in the future, don’t forget to mention your volunteering experience!


Remember, if you haven’t volunteered yet, maybe it’s time to do something great – for you, your community, and your career.