Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, a World Health Organisation sponsored event promoting worldwide action to prevent suicides.
An average of almost 3000 people commit suicide daily, and it’s estimated that twenty times that number make unsuccessful attempts to take their lives.
While promoting awareness of the issues is one of the aims, getting more people involved with making sure everyone has access to help if they need it is the other.
While you might think that means volunteering on a helpline or as a befriender, these aren’t the only ways you can make a difference.
At Reach we recently put a Surrey branch of the Samaritans in touch with a volunteer Treasurer, and we’re now looking for a volunteer to fundraise for a Hampshire counselling group. Whilst not on the front line both of these are classic cases of a back-room function without which front line service delivery couldn’t function.
Whatever your background, and wherever your strengths lie, there is a way you can make a difference.
Click on some of the links below to take the first step to acting today.
If you are experiencing suicidal feelings now, you can find support immediately by calling the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90, or following this link.
My experience over the last year of volunteering within various organisations has led me to the view that there at least four different types of volunteering.
The first level is an organisation consisting purely of volunteers. It has been estimated, for example, that there are over 49,000 formally organised amateur arts groups across the country with nearly six million members. Those people work hard to create plays, concerts and exhibitions which others enjoy and will pay for. Few of the people concerned would consider themselves ‘volunteers’ and may not even like the term. However, this doesn’t matter provided each organisation recognises their value and manages them properly.
The second level is where the volunteer receives no pay but works alongside paid employees of an organisation (typically a charity). The volunteer may be working at a relatively unskilled informal task like serving in a café, ushering people to their theatre seats or collecting donations outside a tube station. If they have professional skills which aren’t being used, this may not be an issue if they have had recent experience of a demanding salaried job. Others may be frustrated at the situation. A good organisation will know which volunteers are in which category.
National Trust volunteers, for example, may have an art history degree but aren’t in a stately home to explain the paintings to the visitors. They are there to stop them touching the works of art!
Volunteers at the third level (also known as pro bono) tend to be professionally qualified and retained by a charity specifically for their technical knowledge. They may a lawyer giving legal advice or a business manager advising on project planning, risk analysis or organisational governance.
When a charity applies for funding from the Arts Council or Heritage Lottery Fund, they often need to show ‘matched funding’: an equivalent amount they have raised themselves. This can include the notional monetary value of non-cash contributions. A typical entry in a bid document might say:
This shows the difference between second and third level volunteers: the volunteer in the newly constructed arts centre and the architect who helped design it.
The final level in my definition is a trustee sitting on the board of a charity. The volunteer is again unpaid and engaged for their expertise. However, they now have a duty to protect and safeguard the charity’s resources and a personal liability for their actions. It is a strategic role in which the trustee puts ‘their nose in but keeps their hands off’ the daily operation of the organisation.
A friend of mine is both a project manager and a trained volunteer for the Samaritans. I imagine that dissuading people from suicide differs from delivering projects for a major company but I am sure they use many skills from their managerial toolkit – empathy and active listening are just two examples – to succeed in this vital role. Perhaps this shows up my definitions as being too rigid. This good Samaritan is performing somewhere between levels two and three.
At whatever level they are performing, a volunteer’s time may be free but its value to their organisation is priceless.
Terry Wynne is a volunteer with Cultural Co-operation. He blogs in a personal capacity.
The Young Foundation and Age UK Lambeth have teamed up to provide innovative self-help, peer-support groups for people 65 years and over in Lambeth.
The ‘Full of Life’ project aims to enhance important life skills and increase the wellbeing of older residents so that they feel more able to deal with day to day challenges in their lives.
The groups will meet weekly for eight weeks, starting in November, and will cover topics such a coping with change; identifying personal strengths; strategies to increase mood and wellbeing; and understanding how thoughts and beliefs impact on mood and behaviour.
We are looking for individuals or groups who would benefit from attending/holding the meetings.
Perhaps you have friends or service users who would gain from participating in a group, or a group that could really gain from the emotional resilience skills training.
We would like as many people to benefit from this exciting project so please spread the word to anyone who it may be helpful to.
Nina Mguni is from the The Young Foundation
Making a Difference – To Be or Not To Be a School Governor?
Monday 7 November 2011
Baker Tilly, Hartwell House, 55-61 Victoria Street, Bristol BS1 6AD
School governors are one of the country’s largest voluntary groups with around 300,000 individuals contributing to strategic development and raising standards of achievement at more than 30,000 schools nationwide. You probably have the skills that all schools have a need for. You do not need to have a background in education. This presentation will give you an outline of the role and responsibilities of governors in different types of schools, including perspectives from a Head Teacher and current Governors.
Email Karen.firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm your attendance (no charge for this event).
In a recent blog for the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network, Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of the NCVO, called for more attention to be paid to back office functions.
In arguing the case for investment in infrastructure, he stresses the importance of legal, technological, governance and financial skills if civil society organisations are to grasp new opportunities, and survive long enough to realise them.
Reach is only too aware of these risks. The charities we help regularly tell us that they simply don’t have the time of the money to focus on these fundamentals.
Here’s a fairly typical comment from our 2011 skills survey:
‘We only survive because of the very long hours I invest as besides managing a team of over 100, I do fund raising, training, supervision, IT, finance, fundraising and it is a horrendous work load by any standard… we live in hope that the financial situation might change.’
Resource-poor charities that treat support functions as necessary distractions to service delivery are at high risk of failure no matter how good their frontline services are. There must be more help available for them to acquire or develop these skills if they are to survive. Living in hope simply isn’t an option.
We make it our mission to provide no or low cost access to skills to resource-poor charities and have recently redefined the skilled volunteer support we will inject into the sector. On the one hand, charities tell us they need skilled trustees. On the other they say they really need ‘doers’ who will help them implement strategies and turn good ideas into action. By providing support at every level of the ‘back office’ we can respond to this spectrum of need.
High-level strategic support : skilled Chairs, treasurers , trustees and business advisors who can provide effective governance and strategic support to the exec team.
High and mid-level business support: experts who can boost capacity in business disciplines like income generation, financial management, marketing and management information.
High and mid-level operational support : hands on doers who can provide skilled support to the back office, from database design to event management to business administration.
We still have a challenge in helping organisations to diagnose what it is, exactly, that they do need. We are working to find a way to do this by guiding charities, when they register a skilled volunteering role with us, through a series of questions and prompts that helps them to think this through.
I’ll close with one message for charities and one for volunteers:
Volunteers: we need you to continue to come forward and offer your career skills – by supporting the back office you can have an enormous impact on the frontline.
Charities: we have 2,800 volunteers ready, skilled and waiting. Please come and get them!
Kirsty Palmer, Chief Executive at Kensington and Chelsea Volunteer Centre, responding to The Big Squeeze Survey, highlights that many local charities just don’t have the resources to handle the surge of volunteers that the Government and others seem to think will be the saviour of the sector. Kirsty talks about the well-meaning but wrongly-skilled volunteer manpower which may pose as many challenges as it does solutions.
If we are going to make use of the incredible goodwill that clearly still exists to volunteer for a cause then it is essential that charities are given access to the additional resources they need to take advantage of that commitment. That is more than a bit of time to recruit volunteers, it starts with helping charities work out what help they do actually need.
At this time when the sector most needs help Reach has found that they are often least able to take it. Many know what skills or volunteer resources they need but haven’t got time to articulate it to attract the people they need, many have no idea that they can source people with skills willing to help and often quite self directing once they understand the charity.
Our own research highlights two deeper issues:
Many people looking for jobs are offering their time as administrators to charities who, as LVSC’s report also points out, are not needed by most charities. Instead charities need skills. Our own research highlight this too.
Perhaps most interesting for me in Kirsty’s comments in today’s Guardian Blog was that those people offering themselves as administrators actually have the very skills charities need. So it would be great if some of the proposals coming out would do more than encourage mass use of apprenticeships and interns. The support needs to offer charities access to these people with great skills that see no opportunities for them and show this currently turned off pool of fantastic talent that they can be valued for their skills and experience.
Often we do or say things in life that have an effect but we never know about it – that smile that connected with someone who felt no-one would notice them that day and it lifted their spirits; the £2 to a busker not getting anywhere that meant others then gave; the debrief from an interview when they didn’t get the job that actually encouraged them to get try for another job and made the difference.
I’ve heard people tell stories of that unknown encourager.
Today I heard that a blog I wrote 8 months ago may have been a small part in making something happen – @ian1martin tweeted me today saying ‘the article you wrtie about me opened our first task group, so ever you one of want the meeting just let know. hope you well’. I don’t know about my contribution to Ian but the encouragement I have felt in the last few minutes is huge. This is why I get up and do this job every day. Amazing!
Read my original post at http://www.reachingskilledvolunteers.co.uk/2010/11/24/are-you-aware-of-disability/ and find out more about Ian via https://twitter.com/#!/ian1martin.
Who has encouraged you … and do they know they made a difference?
Caroline Beaumont, Reach’s Director of Services, has written a blog piece for the influencial Chartered Management Institute.
In a post titled Becoming a charity trustee can help your community and your career, Caroline talks about how managers can turn their skills to becoming trustees and skilled volunteers.
Describing trusteeship as the, “kind of volunteering that can complement and add value to your career”, managers are encouraged to think about the impact taking up a trustee position can have on their personal and professional development.
You can read the article in full here.
If you’re looking to use your management experience to find a trustee or other skilled volunteering opportunity, you will can Register with Reach today.
To coincide with Volunteers’ Week 2011 Esté van der Walt has shared her experiences of finding a skilled volunteering position through Reach.
I first started volunteering as a university student through local community projects. After moving to London, I missed being involved in the community this way and started to enquire through friends if they knew of any projects that needed help. One friend told me about Reach and their ability to match individual skills with charities in need of volunteers.
To register with Reach was easy and quick and a member got in touch to find the best match. Reach is practical in their approach as they match organisations not only with your skill set, but also with the time you have to give, the location you wish to work in and the type of organisation you would like to join. This practical approach made it possible for me to include a volunteer role in my working week as well as keeping this in balance with my personal life.
The opportunity I received through Reach to work at Knights Youth Centre (also referred to as KYC or Knights) in Streatham, has opened other doors for me too. I have learnt more about myself, grown as a person and received the opportunity to enrol in a therapy course at Birkbeck University – all thanks to the experience I received due to volunteering at KYC. I have also had the privilege to be part of many activities at Knights, one of the highlights being a 100 mile rowing challenge on the river Wye to raise funds for projects at Knights.
Thursday evenings at Knights are called Seniors where we work with young people age 16-19. The seniors evening have been a wonderful experience and learning opportunity. My strength was in supporting fellow youth workers and the team in general. Volunteering at Knights has not only aided my own personal development, but I have also contributed towards a team with one mutual goal, namely to provide a service to young people in need of support. These include a range of activities, focused workshops on a variety of topics, employment support, sport, sexual health advice and fun cooking meals together.
I would highly recommend volunteering experience provided by Reach.
I visited Shaw’s Corner with my mother yesterday and met a wonderful group of volunteers who were acting as hosts and guides on a very busy Bank Holiday Monday.
One of the volunteers I met was a new volunteer – Tom, who had come via St Albans Volunteer Centre. I was hugely impressed by his positive approach to volunteering. I was surprised to learn in conversation that he was very new to the House as he seemed so relaxed and was directing people with assurance. I was equally entertained later on when talking to some of the longer serving volunteers at how much they were enjoying having this young man as part of their team and how seriously they were taking his training.
They saw their role as guide and mentor. Without realising it, his role to them was a sense of value and inspiration.
As the chief executive of a volunteering charity I meet hundreds of volunteers each month. Many of them have great stories but few inspire me quite as Tom did. He may not have a paid job currently, he may be finding it hard to work out quite what to do as a paid role, but while he is sorting that out he has a positive outlook. He sees volunteering as a asset to his CV. He is so clearly enjoying being a Room Steward and, he says, quite unexpectedly sees volunteering as something for his future not just right now as a stop gap. He is a great example of why I love my job and why I think volunteering is important.
I’ll be going back this summer and I hope I shall see Tom again – though if an employer has snaffled him I will mask my disappointment with the genuinely felt delight that someone else will have seen what I saw – potential.