The 37th annual National Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June) is a chance to recognise the valuable contribution volunteers make to communities across the UK – particularly the part they have played in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to research , one in five UK adults (19%) volunteered their time for community activities during lockdown, with each individual contributing, on average, about three hours of their time.
It’s clear that the effects of the last 12 months have galvanised communities and ignited a passion in people to give something back. The hope is that the desire to volunteer will endure after the global pandemic has abated and create a lasting impression on every part of society.
Each day during National Volunteers’ Week, there will be a focus on a different element of volunteering – whether that’s young people and children, or employer-supported and skilled volunteering. Both ends of the volunteering spectrum are as important as each other.
Every day, we see shining examples of the contribution children and young people make to society through volunteering and social action. Vanessa Lee explains. "Personally, that’s where it all began. Volunteering was instilled in me when I was young by my late father and is inherent in my family. I firmly believe that we should all give something back if we are able to. It’s not necessarily about a financial contribution, as just an hour of time can make a huge difference - even if it is just connecting with people or listening.
"That mantra has followed me throughout my professional life, closing the circle from young people and children to employer-supported and skilled volunteering. I want to use my experience in tax and Private Client work for the greater good. At BDO, we have what is called the 5+5 Citizenship Programme, which gives employees 10 days’ paid leave. During which time they can fundraise, volunteer, or take part in team building days, as well as use their professional skillset to make a difference.
"I’ve been volunteering throughout my professional career, but it’s initiatives such as this that help to unlock the potential that exists in so many businesses and encourages people to recognise the professional value they can bring to a whole host of organisations – whether that’s becoming a Trustee of a charity, working on a big societal challenge, or supporting young people in education and providing them with confidence to be the best they can be.
"The last 12 months have taught us that together we can make a real difference. The key is removing those barriers and making volunteering part of our everyday working life. Last year at BDO, my colleagues spent 9,500 hours volunteering in their local communities as a result of the 5+5 Citizenship Programme.
"In recent years, I have channelled my efforts into three causes which are important to me.
"Firstly, I have supported Tax Aid, which provides free tax advice to vulnerable individuals. Having spent my career in Private Client, I have been able to deploy my experience to assist individuals who are on low incomes, have become widowed, are facing capacity issues, are in distressing social situations, or who are facing the vulnerability of diminishing capacity in bringing their tax affairs up to date. These individuals can be terrified by correspondence from HMRC, but by providing support, and getting them on the right path, it can be transformative to their wellbeing.
"My involvement started by supporting with face-to-face meetings, but I am now on the national advisory board, and I’ve been supporting them by ensuring the charity remains financially sustainable. The board is made up of senior tax practitioners and a key focus is on working with HMRC and improving its approach on a variety of matters. As a firm, I am delighted that colleagues across the UK have also volunteered to provide direct support.
"In addition, I’ve been volunteering with the University of Hull for over four years, and act as a Lay Member of Council and Chair of the Finance and Investment Committee. It is often a time-consuming responsibility, but I take great pride in my small contribution to the success of the university.
"I have also been volunteering for The Prince’s Trust since 2017, and I’m a member of the Regional Development Committee in Yorkshire and Humber. For me, seeing the direct impact of instilling personal belief and confidence in young individuals, who have often faced immense personal challenges, is hugely rewarding. The impact of COVID-19 is such that there are more young adults than ever in need of The Prince’s Trust’s help. However, like so many organisations and charities, revenue streams have been severely impacted over the last 12 months and it has been essential to be more agile about engaging with supporters.
"Volunteering is hugely rewarding and the opportunity to use your professional expertise for the greater good is immensely satisfying. Charities and organisations, like so many, have faced immeasurable challenges over the last year; however, the role of volunteers has never been more important in helping to alleviate the often unseen wounds that have been inflicted or deepened by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Business leaders have an important part to play in facilitating employer-supported and skilled volunteering and enabling employees to incorporate volunteering into their working life. Without the structure and emphasis, we risk losing significant potential for the benefit of vulnerable and in-need individuals.
"In 2019/20, there were around 163,000 voluntary organisations in the UK, most of which rely on volunteers. That reliance has never been more pronounced and, as professionals, we can make a real difference in strengthening those numbers."
Vanessa is a Tax Partner at BDO LLP based at the firm’s Leeds office. She leads the Private Client Services practice across the North of England.