No time to take on a volunteer? Five reasons to do so

martin-barnesMartin Barnes is chief executive of LawWorks (‘the Solicitors Pro bono Group’). Previous roles include chief executive at the charity DrugScope and director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). He has also been a welfare rights worker and volunteer at a Citizens Advice bureau.

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We all know the benefits to an individual of volunteering – they learn new skills, share existing ones, contribute to a great cause, make new links… and much more.

Indeed, as the CEO of LawWorks, a charity which connects volunteer lawyers with individuals and small not-for-profit organisations in need of free legal advice, I know the benefits to volunteers of donating their time and skills particularly well.

But is it worth it?

However, what I see frequently, but do not hear about as much, are the wider benefits to a small charity or voluntary organisation of receiving help from a specialist volunteer.

For many smaller organisations, and even some larger ones, money is not the only barrier to receiving professional help. Even when this help is available on a voluntary basis, creating time and space to analyse what help is needed, find good volunteers, and then bring them up to speed can simply take too much time – and let’s face it, time is the most precious resource of all. There are often a host of other more urgent tasks that need to be done instead.

Many voluntary organisations feel they just do not have the capacity to receive specialist help – be that from accountants, communications professionals, lawyers, strategy and marketing consultants, and even general mentors.

Five reasons why a specialist volunteer is a good idea

LawWorks placed over 140 cases for small voluntary sector organisations with volunteer lawyers last year and we have learned a few things during the years this project has been running. As Volunteers’ Week has just passed, I thought I would share some of this learning and give a few reasons why working with a specialist volunteer can be a truly great thing for an organisation.

1. Benefit from specialist skills

Okay so this one is obvious, but it is still worth mentioning. Almost no voluntary organisation has in-house expertise in everything, across the board. Recent (and high profile) examples have shown that not keeping matters like governance and internal policies in order can lead to serious problems in the long-term – there is no denying that charities have never been under more pressure to ensure that their houses are in order. Specialist volunteers can help with this.

2. Reality check

We can all be guilty of becoming so engrossed in our day-to-day work, that often the most important questions or emerging issues are missed. Outside volunteers can bring a fresh outlook, and often ask the most fundamental or difficult questions that can reveal obvious gaps to consider (or confirm that there aren’t any). Why is the process like this instead of that? What is the reason we say this but not that? In the right circumstances, a lack of familiarity – a ‘beginner’s mind’ perspective – can be a real asset in a volunteer.

3. Champion your cause

Surely the more people that know about your organisation and learn about what it does and needs, the better? You are creating awareness about your organisation and loyalty to it, as well as gaining a wealth of new contacts.

4. Learn new skills

Working with new people from different backgrounds and with varied skill-sets is a real opportunity to learn and expand your own knowledge, and that of your organisation.

5. Investment

Taking time out to receive volunteers can be a short-term hassle, but there is no question that this is a long-term investment. Ideas, information and knowledge brought by volunteers can save you time and put you ahead of the game in the long run.


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