Innovation In Giving

The Case for Slow Volunteering…

Helen Goulden

One of the assumptions that are lot of us make when thinking about ways of encouraging more people to volunteer is that people don’t have enough time to get involved. That the pressures of a 21st Century life mean that we are time poor; with jam-packed lives that squeeze out certain kinds of activities.

As someone who shuttles daily between work, the school gate, and suffers the 1950’s gravitational pull of family household chores and a background hum of guilt about not doing – or being – more, I can sympathise with this point of view.

The response to this belief about time poverty in a volunteering context has been to think about designing short, sharp volunteering opportunities; micro-volunteering that might only take a few minutes, or one-off opportunities that might just take an hour or so.  There are a number of initiatives which focus on flexible volunteering and micro-volunteering emerging, and of course technology allows us to accelerate this idea of micro-volunteering either through offering more opportunities online, on phones or as a route to identifying slivers of need out there in the real world.

Through this fund, we’re interested in knowing more about the potential impact of micro-volunteering, hence supporting research by the Institute for Volunteering Research to explore just this issue.

But is this assumption right, that people don’t volunteer because they don’t have the time? I wonder. I’ve been thinking that maybe we are colluding with this idea of time poverty and that the only answer is to break things up into bite size chunks, create opportunities that can be squeezed into the nooks and crannies of every day life as a route to getting more, new people into the habit of volunteering.

Let’s get off that trip momentarily and make a case for Slow Volunteering. A nod toward the Slow Movement and what it stands for…

A recent research report from the Association from Psychological Science claims that giving time away, volunteering to help others actually increases the sense of having more time. Research from Volunteering England suggests that volunteering is good for your health and according to the American Psychological Association it could actually lengthen your life – so not just that it feels like you have more time, but you actually have more time.

Being a Games Maker was a fairly hefty commitment of time. Volunteering at Kings College Hospital requires a serious commitment; one year minimum and a minimum number of hours per week – and both (and many other more intensive volunteering opportunities like the Samaritans) have turned large numbers of people away due to over-subscription.  Time poverty, in these examples, doesn’t seem to present a problem.

And at its heart it’s because these experiences foster feelings of quite deep connection with other people, an increased sense of purpose, of being needed and a more expansive view of care; care beyond our pitiful selves and quiet concerns about our own well-being, toward greater compassion toward others. That takes time. Could micro-volunteering take you to that place? I don’t know.

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