What do people need to think about before volunteering?
Before looking for a volunteering opportunity most people will need to consider the following questions:
- What skills, qualities and interests do I have to offer?
- Am I able to take on a commitment to voluntary work?
- How often would I want to volunteer and for how long?
- Is there anything that would influence or restrict my choice of volunteering role?
- Would I need support? If so, how much and with what kind of tasks?
- How much information about myself would I want to share with an organisation?
What do people gain from volunteering?
People volunteer for many different reasons. Making a difference to the lives of others can be immensely rewarding, but the benefits don’t stop there. Volunteering can give people the skills and confidence they need to get into work, climb the career ladder or expand their circle of friends. It can broaden people’s horizons, introduce them to activities they thought they’d never try, or even just help them get out of the house and become more active. Recent research from Scotland has shown that volunteering has a positive impact on both physical and mental health.
Who can volunteer?
Anyone can volunteer. In most cases no experience is required, just a willingness to get stuck in and help out. Training is usually provided for more involved volunteer roles. Some roles may benefit from prior experience or transferable skills, particularly where there are higher levels of accountability and responsibility.
What kind of commitment is required?
The time commitment made to volunteering depends largely on the type of work a person is involved in. Some organisations ask for a few hours per month, others a few days a week. It is usually up to the person and the organisation involved to find a mutually beneficial or suitable arrangement.
Can people volunteer while claiming benefits?
Yes. People can volunteer for as many hours as they want as long as they still meet the conditions required to be in receipt of benefits or tax credits. The old rule that you could only volunteer for 16 hours a week or less no longer applies. Any out of pocket expenses received will usually be disregarded when it comes to working out a person’s income. We recommend that anyone receiving benefits should let the job centre know before starting volunteering. They may ask for a form to be completed, detailing where the person is going to volunteer, how many hours it will be for and what expenses will be reimbursed.
Do expenses get paid?
It is good practice for organisations to pay volunteer expenses to cover things like travel money and meal allowances. However not all organisations do, so it is worth checking before starting.
Do volunteers need a PVG certificate?
Volunteering that brings people into contact with children, or with those considered to be vulnerable, will require a more stringent selection process which may include Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Check. This involves completing a form detailing previous addresses and evidencing proof of identity. Volunteers will not pay anything for this. Having a criminal conviction or contact with the police does not automatically preclude someone from volunteering with children or vulnerable groups, but it is worth seeking confidential advice from staff at Volunteer Midlothian before you go any further.
What support does Volunteer Midlothian offer?
Starting volunteering can be a daunting prospect, especially if a person has never volunteered before. Our staff will be happy to help identify whether or not an opportunity would be suitable, and to make the initial contact with the organisation if required. We try to follow-up with volunteers we have worked more closely with to check that things are going well with a new placement. We may be able to offer some limited additional support to people that need it, but where possible we ask other agencies that are working with a person to help them get established in a new role. This may include accompanying them for the first few sessions as a new volunteer. The best thing to do is to contact us for a chat if you think more support may be needed.
For young volunteers aged 14-25, our Transform project offers fully supported and supervised volunteering opportunities including gardening and intergenerational work with older people.