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Is there anything that would make volunteering easier for you?

(84 Posts)
RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 10-Apr-12 12:03:01


Our Campaign of the Week this week is for the rather splendid Do-It, a site which aims to help people in the UK find volunteering opportunities via a postcode search.

Obviously volunteering is something that can take a hit when households are already struggling to make ends meet, so we wanted to ask: what kinds of things (other than an overflowing bank account) would make it easier for you to volunteer? And - for those of you who have volunteered in the past - what did you gain from the experience, and would you recommend it to others?


BabsJansen Tue 10-Apr-12 18:37:48

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

CamperFan Tue 10-Apr-12 19:20:57

Definitely childcare whilst you are training - just a couple of carers in a room next to where your course is being held, and flexibility to do parts of the course at home. I am talking specifically about training to be a bf peer supporter. I was so passionate about doing this, but the logistics, unnecessarily lengthy course (topics could have been covered in about 3 sessions, not 12) and the sheer bureaucracy involved have meant I've been unable to continue with the training, which is such a shame.

BornSicky Tue 10-Apr-12 19:22:47

my local surestart provide support with childcare for people volunteering with them - they're run by Action for Children.

I think that's a MUST for organisations who want to recruit parents as volunteers.

ragged Tue 10-Apr-12 19:30:56

I am glad for the link in OP & will try to resolve to come back to it.
But what would really help is... less personality politics.
Preschool committee, PTA, school governors -- all dominated locally by a Cabal of unpleasant people. Even though 90% of the other volunteers are quite reasonable, there are those with no manners or who like to run roughshod over anyone they don't respect (and it's not just me they treat like dirt). Avoiding Cabals would be my top priority.
Don't think this thread can stop that kind of thing, though sad.

Oh, and childcare. Number of times I couldn't go to X because of lack of childcare. I even offered to run a creche as my contribution (I was CRBd to the gills) & they just blanked me, wasn't something they needed, after all, sigh.

Fraktal Tue 10-Apr-12 20:06:28

More that can be done by phone/distance. There are lots of positions which involve research or writing or stuff that can be done via the Internet. Some areas are stuffed with volunteers, others have a dearth and it's usually the latter that needs help and could do with outsourcing what they can. If someone in Oxford would be a match for a charity in Hull and the work can be done by distance why not? The postcode search is quite restrictive and organ often aren't thinking flexibly ablut what has to be hands on and what doesn't.

Sunflowergirl2011 Tue 10-Apr-12 20:18:26

Like some others have said on here- letting you take children with you. I would love to volunteer more but with 2 toddlers who I look after full time, there aren't the opportunities round here. (apart from nct who I volunteer for and have found very flexible and geared up to having children tag along.) Also, people wanting volunteers! I tried to set up a local food bank type thing but couldn't find anyone who wanted to take the food from us.

Wigeon Tue 10-Apr-12 21:01:12

I have done lots of volunteering pre-children and I mostly gained loads of satisfaction and a warm glowy feeling. I would absolutely recommend it.

What would make it easier for me now is training which fits around children. I thought about volunteering for Home Start but the training was only on a weekday morning, which basically rules out every single person who works full-time (unless they are prepared to take leave etc), and anyone who has any other daytime commitments. Training in the evenings or weekends would be better for me (and some others).

The best organisations I have volunteered for have been fantastic at valuing and thanking volunteers (I'm especially thinking of a couple of helplines: and - things like birthday cards for all volunteers, paid staff actually saying "thank you", regular one-to-ones where you were asked for your opinion in a genuine and thoughful way, representation of volunteers on the board etc etc.

The worst was a local youth offending team where the paid staff gave the impression that volunteers were a bit of a hassle, volunteers were not valued or thanked, and where the fantastic and in-depth training didn't bear much resemblance to the actual volunteer role.

RowanMumsnet - I'm not sure why you suggest in your OP that "obviously volunteering can take a hit when households are already struggling to make ends make" - only if volunteering takes place in time which might otherwise be used to do paid work, but my volunteering has always taken place outside my paid work time. I might be missing something though? smile

OutragedAtThePriceOfFreddos Tue 10-Apr-12 21:12:21

Wigeon, I think it depends on the type of volunteering you do. It costs me and dh a small fortune to volunteer with one of our charities, but we get a huge amount out of it and have a lot of friends through it so it's more than worth the expense. However if things got really tight, we would have to stop going to as many events.

I think the things that would make volunteering more appealing would be for those higher up in the organisation to realise they have to go out of their way to make people feel appreciated and valued. Dh and I spend a lot of time doing this, even though we are volunteers and give more than the majority of people we are thanking, but when people are giving up their time to do something we love they deserve to feel appreciated no matter how much or how little they do.

I left one well known organisation because they insisted you do a set number of hours, which I just couldn't give anymore after two years there. I was giving up three hours a week, but it wasn't enough to meet their requirement so I left altogether. I know I'm not the only one to have done this with that charity, they have lost a lot of good people by asking too much and making them feel that what they do give isn't enough.

Wigeon Tue 10-Apr-12 21:17:47

Thanks, Outraged (how much is a Freddo these days?!). Just wondering why it cost you so much to volunteer?

DerbysKangaskhan Tue 10-Apr-12 21:43:27

Something that would make it easier for me is being able to do it as a family. When I was a child (that made me feel old) it was quite common for families to volunteer as befrienders with nursing homes, live-at-home programmes for elderly or people with disabilities, and hospitals. Now, the only family volunteering I've found is one-off park/wildlife centre opportunities with as little human interaction between people as possible which I find quite sad. If we could all do it together, it would not only help many people's issues with childcare but also make it great family time.

workshy Tue 10-Apr-12 22:09:01

I volunteer at a children's group one evening a week -I work FT, am a single parent and I can take the DCs with me

I am considering stopping because....

there is an awful lot of admin/planning/training etc that I am expected to do -I was told I would get support with this before I started -I don't, and this all eats into my personal time
the parents are completely disrespectful of the fact that I am a volunteer, do not get paid and have other responsibilities so if I forget things they are less than understanding
sometimes because of my work schedule, my group don't get to take part in some of the regional activites, and the parents complain (don't offer to help out though)
I am routinely out of pocket as people don't pay up subscriptions etc on time, and I'm too much of a softy to say the DCs have to miss out because the parents are either lax or simply can't afford (I can apply for funding in those cases but if they don't talk to me I can't help)


I love spending the 2 hours a week I spend with the young people and if I didn't have all the hassle I would really value the time I spend volunteering

saintlyjimjams Tue 10-Apr-12 22:16:02

Expenses are the worst for me. Paying hospital parking sucks! I brought it up at a meeting and staff said "well we have to pay for staff parking" well yes but you have a salary too, I do this for free!

Gosh yes, there's a huge difference between volunteering for free and paying to volunteer!

Years ago I volunteered with the NCT bra fitting service (I honestly have no idea why) but a lot of people thought we were paid and treated us as such. At the time it was just becoming clear my son was autistic and I really couldn't bring him along with me to people's homes so I had to wait until my husband was home and the grief I got for not being immediately available (I'm talking an in-home visit within 48ish hours - people weren't left waiting for weeks). I gave up in the end.

Now I do some voluntary stuff (fundraising mainly) with my son's respite centre - I would like to do more but just don't have the time.

saintlyjimjams Tue 10-Apr-12 22:18:57

I don't have the time because I have to earn money btw around 2 young children and a severely disabled older child - which might be the sort of thing Rowanmumsnet was talking about. If I didn't have to earn money I would be happy to do more voluntary stuff.

hippoCritt Tue 10-Apr-12 22:22:32

A guideline in when you are likely to hear, I have applied for several positions and heard nothing. Also term time only voluntary opportunities maybe? So many people help out In schools because that's all that fits in child care needs.

OutragedAtThePriceOfFreddos Tue 10-Apr-12 22:31:54

Freddos are 20p! Gone up by 100%! shock grin

It costs dh and I a lot to volunteer for our charity because it's one that does an adventure sport thing with disabled people, so we have to travel to get to the right place to do it. We also do a couple of exhibitor shows that we pay to stay at for the weekend because it raises money, and we do the sport abroad a couple of times a year because the conditions are better for disabled people, and we pay for ourselves to go on those. Like I said though, it's well worth it and we have a great time. We are a fairly new charity so can't afford to pay expenses to the volunteers yet, but maybe one day!

victorialucas Tue 10-Apr-12 22:34:35

childcare childcare childcare

QuintessentialShadows Tue 10-Apr-12 22:42:37

I did voluntary work with my former parish church in London. I was editing the newsletter which involved researching, writing and commissioning articles, in addition to the proofreading, copy editing, sorting the layoyt, and bringing to print and brought to the distributor, and I was also on the "Meet and Greet Committee", and also organizing events. All this I could usually fit around work, but I found that although they did show appreciation for my hard work, there were no offers of helping me look after my children for a bit when close to deadline and really hectic. From all the elderly ladies, not one offered to come and sit with my children, even if they knew I had childcare problems. My husband was often away for months at the time, and especially in the run up to Christmas, which was the most important deadline for the newsletter, and also my most hectic time in work.
I had to give it up. I could not afford to pay babysitters to come and spend an hour now and then with my children.

I have held both parent governor roles, and pta roles, in school and preschool in Norway, and found both really unrewarding. Lots of hours spent, not a thanks. The headmistress of my sons old school kept offloading tasks to me, which really was the duty of the admin assistant, and not a PTA member.

The worst experience though, was when I was on the Church council, different parish, different people, and also took on writing articles for the Parish Newsletter, which was a really big publication. Often I had to attend events, such as concerts, and write reviews, take pictures, or sometimes interview people in new positions in the Church, to introduce them to the parish. I would send all this work off to the editor, he did not even acknowledge my emails! Not even ONE "thank you, this is great".
I baked for the Christmas party, other events and celebrations, I helped organize the Christmas Fayre, cleaned up when the guests had gone, several hours in the middle of Christmas, I had church warden duties several times per year. And nobody ever said "thanks, great that you could come and help". Or, "here take some left over cake home for your family". Nothing. When the annual "Volunteers thank you party" was held, I did not get an invite.

So, in general:
If you are working with volunteers, please keep in mind that they give up valuable time, time that could be used earning money, or having quality time with their families. The least you can do is say "thank you", respond to emails, or even smile and acknowledge them. This is the very least.

KatieMiddleton Tue 10-Apr-12 22:56:34

I've been thinking about this (have just got in from a voluntary thing that I just adore doing and I hope is useful plus I get to keep my professional development up to date) and I think there is a real problem with diversity in some parts of the voluntary sector because of the inflexibility and lack of childcare.

Do we really only want middle class housewives to be able to volunteer because they have the time and can attend training during the day? I cannot even begin the imagine the skills gaps that must exist in terms of experience because selection, training and induction is so rigid for some organisations. They are not just losing out on those with caring responsibilities but also the skills of people whose work commitments prevent them from volunteering.

I also work with some amazing volunteers who come from a range of backgrounds so it can be done. We're always looking for volunteers and although we have flexible, computer based stuff that only takes an hour once a month or so we can't find someone to do it. We also have really interesting, exciting stuff some local and some remote and still no takers... so I'm watching this thread with interest and putting some of them on that site!

CherylCoalbunker Wed 11-Apr-12 07:14:04

The Do-It website looks great...for adults. But I can't see an advanced option for searching for volunteer opportunities for teenagers (happy to be corrected).

I'm currrently searching for a placement for dd for her DofE award and many organisations have age restrictions, for valid reasons.

Perhaps there just aren't many options for teenage volunteering? Any ideas? It would be great to extend the Do-It database to teen volunteering.

ComeIntoTheGardenMaud Wed 11-Apr-12 08:34:13

Guides and Brownies can provide placements for D of E volunteers - get in touch with your local group or look at

Wigeon Wed 11-Apr-12 10:09:23

CherylCoalbunker - there is quite a bit about encouraging young people to volunteer.

v - the national volunteering charity is a good place to start.

sairygamp Wed 11-Apr-12 10:16:34

Yuor volunteer centre shouod have a specific list of opportunites for under 16s as well.

RueDeWakening Wed 11-Apr-12 10:28:15

Cheryl there were a few "youth placements" that came up when I searched on my postcode, so it sounds like it depends on the local area. And none of them were Guiding.

Second the idea of contacting local Rainbow/brownie packs though, I have 1 DofE volunteer and 2 senior section (16-25 year old) helpers at my Rainbows.

queenrollo Wed 11-Apr-12 11:03:12

I recently gave up volunteering for CAB, though because of the nature of how CAB is set up it does vary a lot from area to area as to how well volunteers are treated and how the offices are managed. Specifically with CAB they request that you do 8 hours a week. I agreed to this but in practice it's too big a minimum commitment to ask. I was happy to give up one whole day (the role I was doing was suited to this) but due to other factors it suited them better for me to do it over two days.

I've found so many volunteer ops just impossible for me to commit to because I have one free day to give, but they all want more. So I think charities need to have more flexibility about the time people are willing to give.

I had quite a few problems and felt unable to approach the staff responsible for mentoring me. CAB do have a volunteer forum but it's not very active. I think if Do-It could find the time and resources to set up a general volunteer forum it would be useful. It would have been great to have some anonymous support from other volunteers, and possibly a place where the volunteer organisations themselves could feed back to their own volunteers. If you care about the organisation you are volunteering for, but cannot resolve issues with your area management team it's not always easy to negotiate how you go beyond that with genuine concerns.

Lastly -my personal experience has been that organisations can be too pushy with volunteers. Some people will volunteer within their comfort zone, please don't then keep trying to push or guilt-trip them into taking on other roles which they are not comfortable with. I have raised this with CAB, but they have now changed a basic role to actually combine two. I applied for one role, I did not feel comfortable with the new additonal aspect of it - but the expectation was there for me to do both. So I left.

twofingerstoGideon Wed 11-Apr-12 11:34:09

I think it might be a good idea if volunteers 'signed up' for a fixed period. I volunteered for a charity for quite a few years, but found that it became onerous and expensive (travel costs) after a while. I felt I had made an open-ended commitment and although, in principle, I was free to stop at any time, I felt really guilty about letting people down. Also work commitments meant I had less free time than I'd had when I started volunteering, so I struggled to find time to fit everything in.

I wouldn't consider volunteering again unless it was for a specific project with a fixed end. I realise that I could have stopped at any time, but from a personal point of view felt 'guilty' about doing so. Other people would probably deal with this better than I did, but I do wonder whether asking people to commit for, say, 3-6 month periods, might attract more volunteers.

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