Type ‘volunteering’ into Google and you’ll come up with 105m results and some of the other stats surrounding the concept are equally staggering. An estimated 1.1 million full-time UK workers would be needed to replace formal volunteers, well over twice the number of full-time equivalent paid employees in the voluntary sector. This would be at a cost of approximately £25.4 billion (based on the national average wage). If you added on the contribution made by informal volunteers, those who contribute their time on a less structured, less regular basis, that cost figure would probably treble.

So, why in a society that is seemingly financially prepossessed, do people offer their time and expertise willingly for no remuneration? Those who do predominantly express a sense of achievement and motivation, generated from a desire and enthusiasm to help the organisations, either charitable or work related, that strike a chord with them. They take the opportunity to get involved in something close to their hearts, to push their normal boundaries, increase their knowledge, widen their social and work circles and ‘give something back’ to a cause that has benefited them. A colleague of mine took a year out to work with Raleigh International in Costa Rica, an experience that took him way outside of his comfort zone but certainly gave him a whole new perspective on life.

The benefits generated for volunteering are by no means limited to personal satisfaction. In a survey carried out by TimeBank through Reed Executive, it was shown that among 200 of the UK’s leading businesses:

  • 73% of employers would employ a candidate with volunteering experience over one without
  • 94% of employers believe that volunteering can add to skills

Furthermore, volunteering will give you the chance to meet all kinds of professionals and people from different walks of life. The networking opportunities it can provide are among the least publicised but most exciting benefits of all. A good network can guide your career pathway right through life and help you achieve career goals far more easily. Volunteering also offers the chance to learn new skills that can give confidence to face challenges in other areas of life. In fact, according to the same survey, 94% of employees who volunteered to learn new skills had benefited either by getting their first job, improving their salary, or being promoted.

The history of volunteering from the 17th century is closely tied to military service, offering to join up of one’s own free will to a cause that one believes in. More recent agencies like Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and the Peace Corps in the USA started a movement that has impacted on the lives of millions. International volunteering, therefore, has a long and varied history. What unites volunteers through all these periods, however, is the way that volunteering has offered access to alternative opportunities, be these travel or work. For many modern volunteers, it offers opportunities to develop themselves as individuals and to get to know a community at a level that is not permitted to the average tourist.

Volunteering is one area where each of us has complete freedom of choice and those choices are myriad. Most not-for-profit organisations depend heavily on volunteers to deliver their goals and the BIFM is no exception. CEO Ian Fielder comments ‘Although BIFM staff determine the main processes and procedures, the majority of work is carried out by volunteers through the regional and specialist interest group structure. The Institutes values the volunteer structure highly and recognises that it could not function effectively without the army of members who give up their time willingly on a regular basis. Working with a group of like minded individuals who share your passion for facilities management is hugely rewarding and gains respect and recognition for everyone involved.’

Opportunities exist to get involved with BIFM at both regional and national levels but that involvement needs to be subject to personal scrutiny. Volunteering can have a habit of expanding beyond the level to which you initially were willing to commit. In a time-precious, stressful life, it’s wise to take stock of the time resource you have available. Asking the opinions of current volunteers is a good way to gauge the time you will need to dedicate in order to achieve your goals.

Think carefully about those goals. If what you are trying to achieve is purely self advancement, is volunteering going to give the instant gratification that you are probably looking for? Motive is the key to achieving the optimum return and the drivers that make up that motive need to be prioritised in an order that benefits both you and the organisation in equal measure. If you are fortunate enough to have an employer that is committed to your development within the industry, take advantage of that support. Voluntary activities let other potentially influential people in your career gain a complete picture of you, showing real examples of your commitment, dedication and interests.

The Plusses and Minuses of Volunteering


  • Personal and career development
  • Confidence
  • Involvement in a community of common interest
  • Achieve respect and recognition


  • Sacrificing your own time
  • Sometimes feeling undervalued
  • Frustration at others lack of commitment


Mary Merrill, Merrill Associates
National Council for Voluntary Organisations

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