The ‘win-win’ nature of social action volunteering

Part of NCVO’s Volunteers’ Week 2016 series.

anne-healAnne Heal is chair of Volunteering Matters, an ambassador for the Cabinet Office skills exchange programme and a trustee of NCVO. Anne was formerly a BT executive, she led BT’s employee volunteering scheme for several years.


Volunteers’ Week offers a great chance to reflect on volunteering and the positive impact it has on individual lives and across society.

When I was fortunate enough to be asked to lead BT’s volunteering activity about three years ago, I’d been volunteering in various ways for many years – school governor, fundraiser, churchyard clearer and so on – a bit here, and a bit there. I really enjoyed it, and I could see I had made a difference, but I don’t think I really got the whole story.

I don’t think I’d ever really stood back and looked at what a profound difference volunteers could actually make – nor understood what a difference volunteering could make to them.

More than 27% of BT employees volunteered last year in some way or another and gave nearly 45,000 days to support charities or causes of their choice. Hearing so many tremendous stories of lives changed and charities supported made me realise that we have achieved so much – but there’s potential for even more.

Benefits of volunteering

There were a few things in particular that really struck a chord for me. I would meet volunteers at one event, often volunteering for the first time, only to meet them a few months later, somewhere else. They would tell me how they had now signed up to offer support of various kinds on a regular basis, perhaps to a charity or a local sports club.

Something had changed fundamentally for them as individuals. I also saw how passionate and enthusiastic people were about undertaking even very short volunteering opportunities.  They might not have much time, but they wanted to do something and they wanted to feel part of it.

Additionally I realised that this is not all one way. It is not only about kind volunteers supporting worthwhile charities. Volunteering offers tangible benefits for both the volunteer and the beneficiary.

Almost every volunteer I spoke to got something out of volunteering that went beyond a fuzzy feeling of goodwill and wellbeing. Some developed life skills that they could not have got elsewhere, while others learnt valuable lessons about governance and board membership that they might have had to wait a long time to experience in a typical career.

Making a difference

Chairing Volunteering Matters shows me time and again the difference that volunteering makes. Going around the country I’ve met some brilliant volunteers who are changing lives every day through the high impact social volunteering that Volunteer Matters focuses on.

I particularly enjoyed meeting the Scottish ‘Handypeople’. These are older volunteers  (often former tradespeople) who undertake tasks for the elderly; perhaps changing a light bulb or assembling a flat pack.

These volunteers also run a befriending programme to provide social support to the beneficiaries who are often  isolated in their community. The volunteers are bringing their skills to bear and improving lives at the same time.

Get involved

I am very proud to be part of the Cabinet Office’s Skills Exchange project, encouraging people with skills to volunteer and make a difference through using their expertise. This is a long-term project that recognises the reciprocal nature of the volunteer-beneficiary relationship.

The great thing about Skills Exchange is that it’s not just about professional skills – it’s much broader than that. Offering your time to mentor a young person, befriend an isolated older person, or offer secretarial support to a local charity are all hugely valuable contributions.

You can share your #skills_exchange story with us! On LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

There’s a place for all kinds of volunteering in our society, from the most micro of micro volunteering opportunities to a demanding trustee role. The most important thing is to simply get involved.


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