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We all have our reasons to volunteer - Suzanne Janes, Volunteer Manager

On many a rainy, dark Sunday morning I can be found adorned in an oversized hi-vis vest, clipboard in hand, providing support, encouragement, water (and sometimes a bit of dubious first aid) as a volunteer marshal to runners at my running club’s 10k race series in Regent’s Park. I sometimes wonder why I agreed to it as I am clambering out of bed, bleary-eyed, at stupid o’clock on a Sunday, but I soon remember my reasons when I get there and see that without volunteers, the event would not be able to happen. Not only that but I enjoy it; I’ve made friends, networked and had the chance to give back to those people who have volunteered at events that I have participated in. I get far more out of it than I am required to put in. This is what I love about volunteering and why I volunteer wherever I can. It’s also why I love recruiting, training and supporting volunteers as my day job.

Everyone has their own reason for volunteering and they pick the causes worthy of their time carefully – be it at one-off community events or through a more intensive form of volunteering such as tutoring. The Access Project is extremely fortunate to have a passionate army of volunteers who, along with the students, are at the very heart of everything we do. Over the course of the last academic year, 962 volunteer tutors chose to give almost 14,000 hours of their time to support a young person and help them realise their academic potential. This equates to almost fifteen hours per volunteer, which I think is phenomenal. We are extremely grateful to each and every one of those tutors for choosing to volunteer with The Access Project.

Benefits to volunteering

As an addition to all the usual benefits many an online article tells us we get from volunteering – improved health and wellbeing, longer life expectancy, a sense of giving back, feeling good about oneself and so forth – the results of our most recent volunteer survey showed that The Access Project’s volunteers also benefit by improving a variety of skill sets and even gaining professional development, too.

95% of respondents to the survey agree that tutoring gives them a sense of accomplishment and 62% agree that tutoring has developed their professional skills. We asked which skills our tutors felt they had most developed through volunteering - communication, coaching and organisational skills came out on top but also planning, patience when explaining challenging concepts and creativity were mentioned, too. 96% also agree that they are able to use their skills and abilities in a meaningful way through their tutorials: win/win!

For volunteers in the dawn of their careers, participating with The Access Project can also help them climb that ladder as 84% of volunteers who are senior managers indicated that they would look favourably on candidates who demonstrated experience of volunteering in this way.

Influencing the direction of our strategy

The results of our volunteer survey, coupled with what our volunteers tell us they would like to see us do more (or less!) of, will help shape our volunteering strategy for the coming months and years. It is vital that, as a volunteering organisation, we work hard to provide the volunteering opportunity our supporters can be proud of and want to continue to give their time to. This is why we will be consulting with our current volunteers to gain more feedback from them as we work to develop our volunteer community and understand the journey our volunteers take with us.

We were also able to more immediately implement some of the suggestions which were made in the volunteer survey, and we have used other comments to shape conversations at trustee and senior staff level about what we could do better. One example is the creation of a tutor Facebook page as a response to the feedback that volunteer tutors would like more opportunities to speak to other volunteers, ask questions and share ideas. In addition, volunteer tutors told us they would like more structure and guidance on content (for tutorials) so we now have bespoke frameworks for tutorials where teachers can give guidance on the topic areas individual students would benefit from receiving support in. We also now have guidance relating to where tutors can get more resources and ideas to aid tutorials.

This is an exciting time for The Access Project. We support more amazing young people than ever before and we have a fantastic group of volunteer tutors standing side by side with us to help bridge the Access Gap.