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

Should we be charging young people to volunteer in their communities?

The Government's flagship youth project, the National Citizen Service, has launched in pilot regions across the UK this week. According to the BBC's website 600 young people in Teeside have signed up to the scheme which is aimed at getting young people more involved in helping their local community.

As an organisation that encourages and supports people into volunteering, we obviously welcome this initiative. However, we are surprised to see that participants in Sheffield are expected to pay a fee to join up. Click here to see the advert on Facebook.

Young people who want to put something positive back into their community should be given every possible encouragement to do so, without the barrier of having to pay for the privilege. Faisal Islam, Economics Editor for Channel Four News, highlights an irony in his blog; "the Government's strategy claims that 'too often such opportunities (work experience and volunteering) are restricted to the better off'". Well then, why on earth are they asking youngsters to stump up £50 to join up when many people are struggling financially in the current economic climate?

Volunteering and setting up community projects are an enriching experience for all, but for the young person it can also be about acquiring precious new skills and building confidence which can really boost employment prospects.

We have witnessed these positive outcomes from our own version of the NCS - Junction49.

Junction49 is an online community dedicated to young people (aged 13-25) who want to set up projects, campaigns and events around issues that matter to them in their community. Since 2007 Junction49 has attracted 8110 members with 1150 new ideas submitted.

What is particulary unique about the site is the multiple levels of support that is offered to young people wanting to get their ideas off the ground, both online and offline. Behind Junction49 sits a dedicated helpdesk team of staff and volunteers who will give tailored advice and support to ensure that the ideas have the best possible chance of succeeding.

So what is the catch? There is none. There is no fee involved and the site is open to absolutely everyone within the age-range who wants to do something positive with their time and help their community. So for you young people out there who want to be good citizens but don't want to be charged for it then look no further and join up to Junction49 today.

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Who doesn't want to volunteer?

If you're reading this blog its unlikely you're part of the 61% of the population who've never volunteered. This figure comes fresh from recent research commissioned by Parkinson's UK to mark this week's Parkinson's Awareness Week

So, would you be surprised to hear that:

- Out of the 2,000 British adults asked, 32% said they were not interested in helping charities.

- Half of them said they had never fundraised before, and

- 61% said they had never volunteered

- Given a choice, 43% of them would rather volunteer than fundraise, with 25% saying they'd rather fundraise. 32% said they would do neither.

To try to encourage these people to volunteer, Parkinson's UK are coming up with different ways of volunteering. Find out what they've got on offer here

Perhaps the 'non volunteers/fundraisers' around us just aren't aware of the benefits; the fact you can make a massive impact on someone's life, increase skills for your CV, meet new people. But of course, you don't need reminding.

Well, now it's up to us to tell them.

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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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