It feels like there's a real buzz around Volunteers' Week (1st-12th June) this year. BBC Volunteering Season has played a big part in this, but I think there's more to it than that. It looks to me as though public enthusiasm for volunteering is growing.
This is the year that Volunteers' Week has been extended from seven to twelve days, enabling more people to take part. The final day coincides with the Patron's lunch: a celebration of Her Majesty the Queen's lifetime of service to more than 600 charities and organisations, on the occasion of her 90th birthday.
But this is nothing new. Volunteering has always been a prominent feature of our society. Over 21 million people volunteer in the UK at least once a year and this contributes an estimated £24bn to the UK economy. The 2016 UK Civil Society Almanac revealed that two in five adults have volunteered at least once in the past year. An Ipsos Mori report found that 42% of young people took part in meaningful social action in 2015. And I suspect that there's even more volunteering that goes - perhaps modestly - unrecorded.
Why is there such an appetite for volunteering? I think it's partly a genuine sense of wanting to do something to improve society. Our 24/7 news culture means that we are increasingly aware of a broad range of social issues, from child poverty to social isolation amongst older people and cuts to public services. Volunteering is a way to take some positive and personal action to address these issues.
On a more individual level, volunteering offers a whole host of benefits for both the recipient and the volunteer. Naturally the recipient receives a service of some kind, whether that be mentoring, support at home, work experience, etc. However, the impact on the volunteers is also significant. At Volunteering Matters we call this the 'double benefit'. The volunteers themselves are gaining from the opportunity to meet new people, learn new skills, step outside of their comfort zone and be a part of something that really matters. And using your existing skills to help someone, be it an individual or a charity, can make a real difference all round. As a result I'm delighted to be associated with The Skills Exchange Campaign, which is being led by the Office for Civil Society within the Cabinet Office. This aims to connect charities and business and raise awareness of the benefits of skilled volunteering for both the charity and business sectors.
And volunteering not only makes you feel good - it may well do you good too. Volunteering Matters recently published a blog post on the health benefits of volunteering: it can help to improve self-confidence, reduce anxiety, and even increase life expectancy. If you'd like to find out more about why our volunteers do what they do, why not browse through our bank of case studies?
We hope that all the media activity around Volunteers' Week inspires you to get involved with your local community through volunteering. At Volunteering Matters, we offer volunteering opportunities under four 'pillars': young people, older people, families and disabled people. We also manage 'employee volunteering' programmes for corporate clients, to provide employees with an opportunity to make a difference in their communities.
Public enthusiasm for volunteering is growing. If you're not already part of a volunteer project, why not give it a go this summer? Our 'opportunity search' web page will help you find the perfect project in your local area. I don't doubt that you'll have a fantastic time. It'll be great for the people you support, great for society, and great for you.