International Volunteering Day – celebrating unsung heroes – it’s what ELBA does

 In Blog, CEO's blog, Community

The 5th of December is International Volunteering Day and as a major player in employer supported volunteering, ELBA will be celebrating at the London Volunteering Conference with colleagues from across the UK and further afield. Volunteers from ELBA member businesses are involved in a wide range of activities, helping young people make better careers choices, opening their eyes to new opportunities, supporting university students who are struggling, helping voluntary organisations improve themselves and their services, befriending the elderly, and helping improve parks, open spaces, community spaces and play grounds. It truly is amazing what they do. Last year they donated over 50,000 hours of their time and directly touched the lives of some 70,000 people.

Volunteers get something from it too – increasingly employers are supporting their workers to get involved in giving their time as it is good for development of leadership and management competencies and team working. It is also good for the soul, and volunteering is thought to have beneficial effects in terms of coping with stress and supporting good mental health.

Long may it continue and the signs are that it will. Research by ELBA supporter Accenture earlier this year predicted a steady rise in employer supported volunteering to the point where it becomes the norm, not the exception. Part of the increase is thought to derive from different values and expectations from “millennials” now joining the work place.

At the conference the talk was of the future of volunteering, and the impact that it could make at city scale, if giving personal time became an everyday part of being a Londoner. It was a good debate and I came away with five thoughts about volunteering in a post-Brexit, post-Trump, post-Renzi world:

  1. Let’s get volunteering tied to the big, tough issues that the city faces – erosion of trust following Brexit, uncertainty, inequality and economic exclusion – and not leave it stuck on the sidelines
  2. We have only scratched the surface of the numbers of volunteers that might come forward in London. Just in ELBA’s own patch there are over 500,000 employees in the City and Canary Wharf, and although we deliver high volumes by current standards, we only get to 16,000 employer supported volunteering sessions per year. There’s some room to go. I heard a thoughtful commentator describe the potential for employee volunteering as a vast reservoir of surplus, untapped “professional love”.
  3. But the community sector could not cope with a sudden and indiscriminate expansion in the numbers of volunteers. They would need to up their capacity and we need new models for how volunteers can deploy their time and skills.
  4. Let’s not confuse work which is unpaid, and should be paid, as volunteering. Unpaid internships, for example, are not All they do is block a career opportunity for someone who’s family cannot afford for them to work for free.
  5. It’s tough for many families in the capital at the moment. Volunteering is not a panacea. But if we can’t always get what we want, through better engagement at local level between volunteers and communities, we might just get some of the wider social welfare we need.

All in all, a great day celebrating the dedication of the unsung heroes – London’s volunteers.

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