Big change is happening in Britain’s volunteering. As baby boomers move into their sixties, the traditional notion of charity volunteers being ladies helping out with admin tasks or assisting in charity shops is fast giving way to the rise of the professional volunteer – as often male as female.
These pro bono workers, with years of experience behind them, naturally want to put their skills to good use. But how do they find the right match, and fit new voluntary commitments into lives that remain full of other 21st century pressures?
You might imagine that demand for their services would be overwhelming. With 165,000 registered charities in the UK, and an economic climate that, despite the recent upturn, remains really challenging for the third sector, there is certainly plenty of need for skilled business people. But those who need it most – small to medium-sized charities and community groups that are struggling to generate income and plan strategically – are usually the least able to articulate their requirements. They often just don’t have the time or the mindset to ‘go to market’.
This is where ‘brokers’ really come into their own.
These modern-day matchmakers not only identify the frontline welfare organisations that need support, but also help them specify the services they require in such a way that fit with what professional volunteers can offer.
As with any good betrothal, after the match has been made, the broker’s role is to support the couple in the early stages of their relationship. Really important to secure the buy-in of the professional volunteer is to design their input so that they can donate small ‘bursts’ of high impact time on a regular basis for a fixed term.
“Running a strategy workshop for a charity board is really rewarding,” says Sue Davidson, who has been bringing her C-suite experience from international organisations to small charities for over two years. “The last thing I want is an open-ended low value commitment, but if I can help trustees secure a better future for their charity, it’s a win-win for them and me.”
The matchmaker will also help out by drawing on further resources if a charity requires more time and skills than a single volunteer can provide, freeing each side from a possible guilt-trip.
The success of the model is clear. While overall volunteering in Britain has remained fairly static over the last few years – with 29% of the population volunteering regularly – at The Cranfield Trust, we’ve seen our volunteer register grow 15% year-on-year.
It’s a different kind of philanthropy. Frontline charities benefit from an injection of high value skills, and the contributing business people build their networks and knowledge while deriving satisfaction from the volunteering experience. As Sue says ‘I like working with clever, motivated, driven people. I would really encourage those in the private sector with years of transferable experience to give their time.’ The Royal Voluntary Service estimates that British volunteering by people aged 50 and over will grow in value from £10bn to £15bn by 2020. Much of this will be by those offering professional skills. Long live the matchmaker!