Vive la difference - one size doesn't fit all

This week we are celebrating with our volunteers on our Midlands projects – Talking Together, Time Together and Hidden Carers.

Over the last three years we have recruited more than 300 amazing volunteers to deliver these projects. It led me to thinking about what they all have in common and l think the answer is practically nothing. But far from being a cause for concern, l think we should celebrate this. Our volunteers cross social, educational, ethnic, cultural and political divides. They range from their early twenties to well into retirement.

So what brings them all to TimeBank? (ok, so they do have one thing in common!) Well, l could bang on about the trust people place in TimeBank as an organisation, our fantastic Project Co-ordinators who recruit, train and support them, our 17 years of developing and delivering cutting edge volunteer led programmes that bring about social change, the importance we place on good volunteer management and of course the need to recognise and celebrate the achievement of volunteers. All of which are really important to delivering a successful volunteering programme, but that would be to miss the point.

I was once invited to sit on a panel of the great and good in the volunteering sector at a national conference on how to increase interest and take up in formal volunteering, and what might be done to address this. Obviously, l prepared notes and rehearsed my arguments – how CEOs need to buy into volunteers and understand why and what volunteers can contribute to achieving an organisation’s mission and values, having paid volunteer managers, clear role descriptions, allowing volunteers to have real influence in your organisation etc. When it came to my turn to speak it suddenly occurred to me that l was talking to an audience of voluntary sector professionals and that my answers were all tailored to meet their expectations – rather than to address a really straightforward issue. So l ditched my notes and said: “It’s pretty easy really, just stop offering people rubbish opportunities to volunteer.”

So perhaps our volunteers do have something in common – we offer exciting and interesting opportunities that people want to do: opportunities that make a real difference in a role that they could not find anywhere else in either a paid or unpaid capacity. We accept that the motivation to volunteer will be different for all our volunteers – for some it is to support a transition in their own lives; to develop new skills to change careers; to broaden learning before going on to new educational opportunities; or a change in life stages, for instance retirement.  Many just want to contribute in interesting and challenging roles to give something back to the community.

So whatever an individual’s motivation to volunteer is, and the TimeBank project they volunteer on, we believe that they benefit equally from their involvement. So thank you TimeBank volunteers for your amazing contribution to all of our projects new and old, but thank you also for all being so different.