An informal conversation and guide to the sometimes confusing world of volunteering.

Reasons to be cheerful

Recently there have been news reports about a marked rise in depression in England with the recession being cited as a key trigger point as people struggle with debt and job worries. These are clearly challenging economic times but there is an antidote according to a new movement launched today - Action for Happiness.

Action for Happiness aims to shift our focus away from self-obsessed materialism towards a more caring society where we prioritise the things that really matter - especially the happiness of others.

This is where volunteering can play a vital role as our own research bears out. Last year we carried out a survey with 700 volunteers which told us that a fifth of respondents reported an increase in better health and almost a third reported increased self-confidence. Doing a good deed for others keeps you active too and you get to make new friends, both of which can lead to a greater sense of well-being.

Volunteering can lead to many positive outcomes. If you are not currently working a volunteering opportunity can help you develop new skills, boosting your CV. But just getting out to meet new people and trying new things can make people more connected, happy and confident.

The Action for Happiness movement wants members to make a simple pledge on their website: to try to create more happiness in the world around them through the way they approach their lives. So join the movement today and consider volunteering as a way to bring this pledge to life. Have a look at our Get Started section to get some ideas.

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It's a dogs life

Love dogs? Have experience looking after them and live in the Greater London area? This could be the volunteering you've been looking for...

The Dogs Trust has just launched The Freedom Project. In the UK there are around 5.15 million households that own a dog and research has shown that there's a link between animal abuse and domestic violence.

So, The Dogs Trust has just launched The Freedom Project. It's a pioneering pet fostering scheme set up for women who have experienced domestic violence and are going into refuges or temporary accommodation. They temporarily place their dog that's at risk with a volunteer foster carer who will care for them in their own home until they can be safely reunited with their owner.

There's lots of support if you choose to be a pet foster carer and the charity will even pay for all pet food and vets bills will be free. If you're interested in getting involved, find out more on the Dogs Trust website.

Find out more about ways to volunteer on our website if you don't live in London but would like to volunteer with animals or want to join the fight against domestic violence



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Disrupting Philanthropy

Yesterday I attended an event called Disrupting Philanthropy where Lucy Bernholz talked about how new technologies are starting to change our behaviours around giving.

The event was organized by @karlwilding of NCVO, the Big Society Network, The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network and @stevebridger

Lucy started with the analogy of a symphony orchestra, an age old system or set of codes that is proven to produce a type of music. But what happens when you apply new technologies, as in the case of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra? Members of the Orchestra were recruited soley by YouTube videos of their performances. With new instruments, new players and new ways of organising the game is the same but the codes are changed.

How does this apply to charitable giving? Lucy talked about how crowdfunding models (like Kickstarter) are changing the funding landscape. How new tools for tracking and measuring (see Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact) are changing how we are able to report on and demonstrate impact. And how new technologies by connecting volunteers directly to causes and beneficiaries are enabling us to be more creative and more driven by what we are passionate about.

If your interest is in how all this applies to giving of money then do read this great write up by Jonathan Waddington. However I was most interested in Lucy's statement that the giving of time is where we are seeing the most creativity in terms of form. Give time, move on.

One great example that Lucy gave is Crisis Commons. But this example is focussed around crisis response and global development - how can similar methods and tools be applied to local and UK based charitable giving?

One pioneer in the UK is Orange who have today launched their mobile volunteering app called Do Some Good. It's available only for the iPhone initially but they plan to roll it out to other devices. It’s an app that lets you do bite-size actions in five minutes or less via your mobile. There are currently twelve charitable actions provided by their charity partners (Samaritans, Sustrans, Groundwork UK, CyberMentors, SCAN, Future Morph, Photofoundation, World Clean Air Forest Initiative (WCAFI), Young Foundation, The Geography Collective, Sustainable Restaurant Association and Practical Action) that "let you volunteer at a time and place that suits you."

The use of mobile technology to aid the giving economy is truely on the rise - will you be downloading the app and giving it a go?

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Semantics and definitions

Semantics around what is and isn’t volunteering are always a worry. 

I think it is vital now when so many volunteer support organisations ranging from local volunteer centres to national infrastructure organisations are losing their funding come the end of this financial year.

Internships, work experience, volunteering, voluntary work and working without pay in a profit making organisation -can you tell me what is and what isn’t volunteering?  

This recent article in the sector press Poundland denies using volunteers in its shops where they deny using volunteers but said that they use unpaid jobseekers in 'on the job training'.

In case you are confused, a handy document exists that has been published by the Volunteering Stakeholder Forum.  Please feel free to click through and use this really valuable resource The Principals of Volunteering.  The document endeavours to answer and define what volunteering is and what it isn’t.

Be it big or small we are all a part of our society so lets make sure it’s a fair one.

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Get fired up

At TimeBank, we've been campaigning about our recent cut in funding from the OCS. Take a read of our previous blog posts to find out about it.

Anyway, I digress.The power of campaigning and the buzz you feel from helping a cause you feel passionate about is amazing. There are lots of organisations out there that need your support, so why not get involved and campaign for them?

We've got a fair bit of information on our website about campaigning for human rights or for organisations like Stonewall working on issues around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - and raising positive awareness. And that's just two areas. What are you passionate about changing? Get in touch with an organisation that shares your views, they're bound to be more than happy to hear from you. 

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Parents joining the Race Online

Can you imagine not knowing how to use google or log on to email, let alone not knowing what a mouse or a keyboard is?

I for one can barely remember the time when I had to manage without those things. But for some people it's a whole new scary world out there. And imagine what it's like having young children who are spending half their time on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube and not having a clue what they're up to.

So TimeBank launched a new project last week called Parents First, which aims to address just that issue.

The project matches mentors aged 18-25 with parents in the London Borough of Lambeth.

They spend 12 hours together, helping the parents to play a more active role in their children's development by learning about computers and the internet. This could be anything from learning about online safety, how to access their children's school's website to booking a family activity online.

If you're between 18 - 25 years old and live in London you can find out more on the Parents First website and sign up to be a mentor now.

Parents First is contributing to the government initiative, Race Online 2012, which aims to get everyone in the in the UK online by 2012. They run events and projects around the country. So if you don't live in London, you can still get involved. Have a look at their website to find out how. You could also check out Age UK, who are looking for volunteers to share their IT skills with older people.

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World Book Night 2011

If youve been paying attention you might remember that I was chosen as a book giver for the first ever World Book Night.

What that meant was that 19,999 people and I across the UK and Ireland had 48 copies of a book each to hand out to random strangers. Yes, that was me accosting people on the high street the other Saturday evening.

There was a fabulous launch which was free for all the book-givers held at Trafalgar Square with lots of authors reading passages to us from Alan Bennett to John le Carre and from Margaret Atwood to Edna O Brien plus many others. There were also a plethora of celebs reading to us from Rupert Everett to Suggs and Nick Cave. I went along with three other book-giver mothers from my sons primary school.

As one of the 20,000 book givers I handed out 48 copies of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. One million books were distributed altogether and I must say it was really hard to decide which one of the 25 selected titles I was going to give out but it made me think about reading all of them. 

I also discovered a new excellent local book shop as I had to pick up my box of books from recently discovered said independent bookshop The Crow on the Hill.

If like me you have been inspired by World Book Night to think about how you could use your reading as a volunteer there is a great legacy from the National Year of Reading which is called Wikireadia it has lots of ideas and links to volunteering opportunites so do please browse through.

Don't forget that if you need any more help get in contact with our helpdesk team here at TimeBank and once you have volunteered you can review your experience and spread the word to others

Happy reading.

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MP support for TimeBank

I attended a 90 minute debate in parliament this morning entitled ‘The effects of cuts on the voluntary sector’.

TimeBank and its current funding crisis were heavily featured in the debate as a perfect example of an organisation delivering the  ‘Big Society’ yet having its funding cut.

Barbara Keeley MP argued strongly for organisations such as ours, which provide the infrastructure to make volunteering a reality and encourage social action not to whither on the vine due to funding cuts. Cutting away at our core funding which severely reduces our ability to act as that precious go-between for volunteers and the beneficiary organisations, completely undermines the vision of a Big Society. Read Barbara’s blog here.

There was a great deal of support from other MPs who recognised our role in encouraging volunteering, but at the same time acknowledging that there needs to be a careful and well-timed transition away from government funding. One MP suggested that the government was out of touch with the modern-day voluntary sector organisation. He said that these charities have to rely on government grants for core funding in order for the frontline services to be realised.

This is the harsh reality. We can’t be expected to deliver the level of care and expertise required to enable volunteering without the staff and resources in our back office which make it happen.

If you haven’t already done so, please sign our e-petition to keep these issues in the limelight and in front of government.

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