What is Volunteering?

So, you want to log your hours on the GwirVol website and claim Millennium Volunteers (MV) certificates. How do you know if what you are doing is volunteering? Search online and you will find a hundred definitions ... here is what we at GwirVol think and what we recognise as part of the MV programme ...

First, some principles ...

- Volunteering is not paid. Sounds simple ... well, you can still claim expenses. In other words, your bus fare to your placement might be paid for or you might be given lunch where you are volunteering but otherwise, you are not paid.

- There is a ‘community benefit’ – in other words, who benefits from this volunteering? It should be you, it should be the organisation that you work for, but it should also be the wider community (not just relatives) or the environment. That is one reason why volunteering tends to take place in charities.

- You gain some kind of ‘personal development’ – this is not just doing routine things every day, you are learning from what you are doing and finding out new skills.

- It cannot be compulsory. Volunteering cannot be something that you have to do, you should do it willingly.

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Now some examples ...

1) I help out with caring for a disabled relative. Is it volunteering?

No. Volunteering needs to benefit people beyond your immediate family and friends. There is no community benefit in this one and it goes for caring for an elderly relative or baby-sitting for a friend.

2) I’m doing some unpaid work in your local vet’s practice to gain experience. Is it volunteering?

No. This is work experience, where you learn about a particular job. It may be unpaid, but it is not volunteering. The animals and their owners may benefit, but there is no wider community benefit. It is worthwhile doing work experience and good luck to you, but it is not volunteering.

3) I am doing the Welsh Bacc at school and I’ve been told I need to complete 30 hours to gain the qualification. Is it volunteering?

No. If you have to do something then it is not voluntary. If you will only get the Bacc if you complete the 30 hours, then you are giving your time to gain the Bacc and not to volunteer. If you carry on giving your time after those 30 hours ... that’s volunteering!Lisa WMZ

4) I have been volunteering at a local animal centre and now my school wants to count this towards my Welsh Bacc qualification. Is it volunteering?

Yes (you see, they are not all ‘no’). If you have made a choice to volunteer and give your time freely, then you are volunteering. If your school then decides to count that for the Bacc, then that does not stop it being volunteering. The difference with (3) is that you have chosen to volunteer not that you are volunteering just to complete the Bacc.

5) I mentor children from the younger years in school during my lunchtime. Is that volunteering?

Yes. Your lunchtime and your after school time are your own time and not lesson time, so you can give this time to volunteer. This also applies to after school clubs to do things like the DofE Award.

6) I am studying law at University and I need to complete 100 hours of volunteering at the law courts to gain my qualification. Is it volunteering?

No. If you are giving your time to gain a qualification, it is not giving your time freely. Ask yourself this – if you did not do the hours, would you still gain the qualification? If the answer is no, then the answer is also no, it is not volunteering.

7) I am doing regular hours in a local zoo, helping out with ticket sales and selling programmes. I am not being paid for this. Is it volunteering?

No. That is work experience – you gain skills, the organisation gains from you working for them, there is no community benefit (especially as people have to pay to get in to the zoo).

8) I am involved in a local time-banking project. I volunteer with a conservation charity and for every hour that I volunteer, I receive credits towards rewards in my local town. Is it volunteering?

Yes. The time that you give to the conservation charity is volunteering and you are not being paid for it. The time spent on the rewards is not volunteering, but this one can count as volunteering as the time you are giving to the conservation charity is improving the environment for everyone.

9) I coach my local sports team – I help out with the training sessions and planning for matches and so on. Is it volunteering?Jack Morris receiving his Millennium Volunteers Sports 50 hour certificate

Yes. Many people coach or help out in sport and do not realise that it is volunteering. If you are not paid and other people are benefiting, then that is volunteering. If you are playing, that time is not volunteering however.

10) Your question here! No honestly, it is always worth asking. If you are not sure if what you are doing is volunteering then drop us a line at gwirvol@wcva.org.uk and we can tell you whether it counts as volunteering ... for us. We know other people may have other definitions, but for GwirVol and Millennium Volunteers awards, this is our definition :)

Good luck with volunteering! You can find lots of opportunities at www.volunteering-wales.net too!

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Find a volunteering opportunity near you and register your interest. Go on, what are you waiting for? If you don’t try it you won’t know what you’re missing!

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