Jonathan Christie responds to a new report which shows volunteering needs to adapt to be fit for the future
The recent report from Volunteer Scotland examining the impact volunteering has on the health and wellbeing of society makes for thought-provoking reading.
In line with an ageing population, older people will play an evermore prominent role in volunteering. This is welcome news ensuring the benefits of volunteering can ward off issues that can impact older age such as social isolation and loss of confidence.
The percentage of working age people is set to fall so, in turn, the numbers of working age people volunteering is also likely to fall. A shrinking workforce will create new societal and economic demands and how volunteering within this age group can be sustained, and indeed flourish, in the coming decades is a challenge which we must address now.
There is a need for representation across the third sector to ensure services and support are reflecting the true needs of society. Only 0.5% of charity trustees are young people, yet almost half of young people volunteer.
There is a decline in volunteering once people reach 25 and this is something that needs to be addressed before the pressures of family and career come into play. Flexible volunteering offers equity of opportunity.
Embedding volunteering as a habit from a young age is vital for society to flourish. The statistics about youth volunteering are fantastic but they could be better. The experiences we are offering need to offer lasting benefits to the volunteers as well as the organisations they support. The opportunities to volunteer need to evolve and grow, free from traditional silos. It is unlikely that an individual would cease feeling responsibility to a cause once they are committed.
So how do we win hearts, minds and time from our young people and get them hooked into volunteering? Vital components include opening their eyes to the issues facing communities and providing them the opportunities to see how they can truly make a difference.
Our Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI) will empower 38,500 young people this year to be advocates for their communities hopefully instilling within them a passion for the third sector that will persist throughout their lives.
Three quarters of young people surveyed by YPI now care more about their communities and would like to help solve problems, with 85% having a better understanding the role of charities. We regularly hear inspiring stories of the YPI legacy of young people continuing to play an invaluable role for causes and charities in their communities. We cannot underestimate this impact at a formative age and, as we move towards 2040, we need these engaged young people more than ever.
This report illustrates the importance of volunteering as a force for good, and the critical role volunteering plays in support of Scotland’s health and wellbeing. As a society we face multiple challenges in terms of demographic change, skills shortages, mental and physical ill-health, social isolation, loneliness, and poorly connected and engaged communities. Therefore, the importance of developing and nurturing early attitudes about volunteering and embedding such habits in communities for the benefit of communities is incredibly important.
Jonathan Christie is deputy UK director at The Wood Foundation