While matchmaking may be one of the older professions in the world, the concept of altruistic volunteerism is not nearly as old. Yet, matching the needs of charity organizations with volunteers ready to give support is much in demand today.
Deepak Ohry, a manager for IBM in the United Kingdom, is chair of the board of trustees at Volunteer Centre Sutton (VCS)—the largest volunteer center in England—whose mission is to promote positive volunteerism. One of VCS’ many services is to recruit people looking to volunteer, and identify opportunities and organizations that meet their needs, skills and expectations—in essence, matchmaking.
“Volunteering provides people with a sense of belonging, valuable skills and a sense of purpose,” says Deepak. “All key to making lives meaningful and satisfying—VCS strives to provide the right fit for all concerned.”
VCS, located in the Greater London borough of Sutton, has more than 5,500 registered volunteers in its database and serves hundreds of organizations looking to take advantage of all those volunteer skills for a variety of good causes.
In 2001, Deepak was finishing five years of volunteer work as a school governor—serving on the governing body at a primary school—but wanted to continue volunteering somewhere. By chance he picked up a leaflet about VCS at his local library and learned about the work they do.
“The Volunteer Centre was very interesting as it offered a wide range of volunteering opportunities and a fantastic means of gaining new skills and experience, as well meeting people from different walks of life,” he says.
A committed volunteer recruiting other volunteers
Arguably, donations may sustain a charitable organization, but dedicated and committed volunteers allow it to thrive—usually serving on the frontline to deliver that organization’s mission.
When Deepak joined VCS he volunteered in what was called Direct Services, which helped organizations with basics such as transportation, shopping, pension and prescription collection and escorting. “The experience in direct services gave me a solid introduction to the enormous range of needs our organizations and their clients have,” Deepak says. “I came away believing that all individuals have some talent, experience, knowledge, skill and value that they can offer to society, and that society needs.”
Committing himself to VCS, Deepak became a trustee on the board in 2003, was elected as vice-chair in 2009, and then was elected as chair in September 2012.
“The trustee role has given me a fascinating insight into the running of a large and diverse organization,” says Deepak. “Its been a tremendous experience, especially working with a multitude of talented and dedicated people. VCS has interactions with many organizations including the police, the Citizen Advice Bureau, and other local government bodies, so there is no shortage of interesting people to meet!”
In addition, there are extremely large events to support. The 2012 Olympic Games in London generated momentum for volunteerism—an estimated 70,000 people volunteered at the games and many of them wanted to stay engaged in some form of community participation.
VCS, which generally places volunteers in the borough of Sutton, received 3300 volunteer applications after the London Olympics and converted 800 of those into volunteer placements—a boon for local charities. “A volunteering culture is a win-win for the volunteer and the organizations and individuals that benefit from their service,” Deepak says.
Put it in the bank—a beacon of high quality volunteering
Recently, VCS launched the “Sutton Shares” time bank—a skills exchange network that allows local people to help each other, build relationships and be recognized for the help that they give.
Individuals join the time bank and for every hour of help they give to someone else (e.g. Spanish lesson, gutter mending, web design) they receive time credit which they can then spend on receiving help from another member (bike fixing, PC set-up).
“The start of the time bank was an incredible experience,” says Deepak. “It was great fun to see how ordinary people came together to offer how they could help each other—very inspiring!
IBM is one of the technology companies involved in time banking initiatives in the UK, and also supported VCS with a community grant earlier in 2013 to enhance its training and online marketing capabilities. Deepak made use of an IBM activity kit on marketing to help VCS create even more positive messages about volunteering.
Moving forward, VCS wants to see the borough of Sutton become a beacon of high quality volunteering and community participation. Rising unemployment and the heightened profile of volunteering has seen demand for VCS services increase, and yet there is also pressure on funding—the challenge to do more with less.
But the effort is worth it according to Deepak. “Volunteering can help develop sustainable communities, especially in times of austerity,” he says.
Deepak emphasizes that, “People should seize volunteering opportunities, regardless of their color, creed, and disposition. I genuinely believe it will ultimately benefit their body, mind and soul.”