Last Wednesday evening Children North East thanked and celebrated our 243 volunteers for the 8,500 hours they have given this year.

The writer Ivan Scheier defined volunteering from the point of view of the volunteer:‘Volunteering is doing more than you have to, because you want to, in a cause you consider good”. We tend to think of volunteering as something organised, managed by voluntary organisations. United Nations Volunteers rejects any criteria limiting volunteering and says ‘Most empirical studies are concerned with volunteering undertaken in the context of formal organisations.

However, focusing only on this aspect of volunteerism overlooks a large amount of volunteer action. Our definition is broader. It includes many acts of volunteerism that take place outside a formal context.’ (United Nations Volunteers, 2011). So if you ask people if they ‘gave or donated their time to the community, unpaid’ (as did research in Australia) they found over 80% replied ‘yes’. An example of such volunteering might be helping an elderly neighbour.

This is the ‘social economy’ which would also include unpaid caring work in the family. Other names for it might be ‘community’, ‘society’ or ‘the common good’. It is tempting to place a monetary value on volunteering, for example if each hour was paid at the minimum wage, but that is economic thinking rather than social good thinking.

The latter means honouring the relationships made between people who volunteer and the people they help;

  • the positive feelings of being useful and being valued;
  • the lessons that both learn about themselves and other people;
  • of life satisfaction and general happiness.