Never under-estimate the expertise of your volunteers’ contribution, a charity leader has advised at the start of World Health Day, which takes place on 7th April 2018.

The CEO of The Counselling Foundation, Robert Cuming, says charities often think of their volunteers as helpful or even essential, but still under-estimate their expertise and worth. They should be treated with the same respect as employees, especially as they are giving up their own time.

“You can only see their true value if you step back and look at the whole organisation,” Mr Cuming said. “It should not just be the people who come forward from the community to help, it should include the voluntary efforts of staff, the clients who will readily lend a hand, and students who are looking to help as part of their courses. These are all separate types of volunteering but equally important.” Having a variety of volunteering opportunities is important within your charity, as you are more likely to gain a wider range of skilled volunteers to assist your organisation to reach it’s potential. Robert said the Foundation was astonished at the level of expertise and number of hours when it started this exercise and was now looking to extend it.

“Our primary volunteers have always been our students in counselling training,” he said. The students must accumulate many hours of closely supervised experience to progress through up to five years of training. This is an intensive, professional course in a specialist field – psychodynamic counselling - but it could be replicated.

“How many other charities could replicate this with a course that not only trains volunteers for their own organisation but gives them a recognised qualification?” he said. “There is often grant funding available to do this or the course can be offered as part of a charity’s income stream.”

He said that in addition, all volunteering should be given a “pound value” rather than “free” which society can see as not having a worth. By giving such great training to the volunteers, their futures are being invested in and their personal development is chartered. It makes volunteers equal with their employee counterparts, and if volunteers feel invested in, they are more likely to put more back into the organisation.

“One of our greatest assets in this regard is our board of Trustees,” Robert said. “We welcome them having a wealth of knowledge in law, human resources, counselling and accountancy, but it wasn’t until recently that we started multiplying their volunteer hours by what they would charge in the commercial sector. It was an eye-opener.” The voluntary work of staff had also been appreciated but not counted over the financial year but the process has started now with surprising results.

“The staff in our charity, as in most charities, work here because they believe in what they do and give their time to running stalls to help break down the stigma of mental health, speaking to community groups or baking for stalls.” This too can be counted as having a pound value that forms part of the charity.

“Breaking down the stigma of mental health has also had a lasting impact in that now people are willing to talk about mental health in the same way they would talk about physical health. There was a time when people who had depression or anxiety would not let anyone else know, let alone be seen at running a stand for Mental Health Day. Our clients have the capacity to become our greatest champions in spreading the word about our service. Well supported volunteering can give them a boost in confidence as well.

“If you bring together all these amazing and separate aspects, it will also help support grant applications to support your client services.” The Foundation has also started a scheme of administration work in its Head Office that supports the service behind the scenes. For more information about The Counselling Foundation, visit the website.