BLOG: The gift of giving time

Often we think of ‘giving’ as all about money and certainly thousands of charities rely on generous donations in order to fund their work. Yet in the UK another form of giving, volunteering, is on the rise. Figures from the NVCO suggest 13.8 million people regularly formally volunteer at least once a month (through a group, club or organisation), rising to 21.6 million volunteering at least once a year. That doesn’t include what would be considered ‘informal’ volunteering – acts of neighbourly kindness for example.

Today is #GivingTuesday, a movement that started in 2012 in the US as a response to the commercialism surrounding the end of Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christmas season, notably with Black Friday. Last year, the total amount spent on Black Friday was $4.45bn. Against this consumerism, #GivingTuesday has rapidly gained traction and year on year the amounted donated on the day has increased, hitting $117m last year alone. As highlighted in the previous statistics though, giving isn’t all about money.

In my day job I run an education charity that recruits volunteers to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, at risk of leaving school without basic qualifications. Volunteers need to have good academic qualifications and commit to at least an hour a week for a term, but amazingly nearly 800 people a year come forward wanting to do this across the country. This enables us to provide an affordable and cost effective service, with a staff team of just 17 people to support the delivery of tutoring to 1,600 pupils a year. Through working with these volunteers, I’ve become increasingly convinced of the desire in human beings to want to give back, recognising that life is more fulfilling looking beyond yourself. Not everyone can afford to give financially, but the giving of time should not be underestimated. The efforts of individuals, supporting others for free, can go a significant way to improving society whilst benefiting the volunteer too.

One of our recent grant funders, Nesta, championed the idea of volunteering, with the slogan for a grants award scheme, ‘People Helping People.’ The title might sound simple, but it sums up a lot. What happens when people step beyond themselves to help others? What difference can it make to society? Such has been the desire of people in my local community of Peckham wanting to help other people, that the local Foodcycle scheme has over 400 volunteers signed up to the weekly rota and is currently oversubscribed. What’s more, the demographic here isn’t the stereotype you might think of: the retired giving up their time during the day, but is predominantly people in their 20s and 30s giving up a Saturday evening.

If the incentive of helping others isn’t enough, there’s a growing body of evidence that volunteering is good for the volunteer. The NHS lists a huge number of benefits, many based on academic research, including decreasing depression and social isolation (problems on the rise in the UK) and improved self-esteem, linked to getting people back into work.

We hear all manner of reasons from our volunteers at Action Tutoring about why they wanted to volunteer and the benefits. For students, it can boost their confidence as well as being great work experience. For those in employment, it provides a different dynamic to their daily routines and can teach them new skills, alongside giving them a different insight into a local community. For our retired volunteers, it’s often a chance to find a sense of purpose and to meet people that they wouldn’t otherwise. This often breaks down all manner of stereotypes, including people’s views of young people, older people and inner city schools.

This #GivingTuesday there will undoubtedly be a focus, and rightly so, on donations to good causes. But the giving of time can be just as precious, if not more so, bringing with it a genuine human transaction, not just an online one involving a debit card. In the digital age, real human interaction, building a meaningful relationship that benefits another, is of huge value to everyone. There are all manner of online forums to find volunteering opportunities, with positions ranging from those that require no skills or experience and perhaps just the occasional hour, to opportunities for people with specific skills and with more time to give. So, get out your debit card and donate by all means, but don’t forget that the giving of your time can be just as valuable, if not more so.

Action Tutoring recruits volunteers all year around to deliver English and maths tuition to disadvantaged young people in primary and secondary schools. If you would like to find out more about how you can get involved, either through volunteering, fundraising or by donating visit

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