peers who volunteer

financial help to support volunteering

Financial help to support volunteering

People were clear to us that their motivation for helping others was not about financial reward, talking instead of the importance to them of giving back and of feeling part of a team and valued again in life. Nevertheless, most peer volunteers were on benefits or very limited incomes and were not in the position to subsidise their voluntary work by paying for their own travel and other expenses.

The way in which an organisation went about reimbursing people for their expenses was a very concrete demonstration about how much it valued volunteers. The issue of financial help for volunteering was the area of our survey in which reports were very mixed, with the number of people reporting positive experiences only slightly larger than those who talked of negative ones.

Experiences of financial help to support volunteering

We asked our survey respondents whether the organisation they volunteered for provided financial help to support their volunteering. More than half of people (55%) were reimbursed for their travel costs and more than four out of ten (44%) received money for food and other expenses.  However, almost one quarter (24%) people said they received no financial help at all towards the costs of their volunteering.

Peer volunteers highlighted three main things when it came to financial help with their volunteering.

Firstly, people wanted to get back their out-of-pocket expenses in a straightforward and prompt fashion. This was a bugbear for many people who had to deal with overly complicated, bureaucratic systems which took weeks to refund the money spent on fares etc.. Interestingly, the advent of new computerised or app-based systems was often cited as a backward step – being much more complex and less speedy than a simple payment out of petty cash.

Paying travel invoices has been so slow that some peer mentors have had to turn down volunteering jobs because they didn’t have the money for fares.

The second issue applied to people who received some form of remuneration, often for sharing their lived experiences to help influence policy or practice via research or Lived Experience Forums. In these cases, it was important that the organisation recruiting people with lived experience took responsibility for ensuring that people were only paid according to their individual benefit rules on limits and disregarded earnings. It was also vital that the organisation was proactive in providing volunteers with clear written explanations of this volunteering role with the Jobcentre Plus and other benefits agencies

I worry how things will be when expenses, such as travel, lunches and other petty expenses will be going into our accounts instead being dealt with in cash. I worry about how it will look when presenting bank statements for means tested benefits reasons.

Thirdly, it was important that organisations equipped peer volunteers with the tools to do their work including phones, laptops etc. as required by the individual’s role.

Positives

Most organisations had efficient systems for reimbursing volunteers for their costs and some were sensitive to the restricted cash-flow of people surviving on benefits.  Positive comments mainly related to co-ordinators being sensitive to people’s needs, particularly if they were receiving benefits, and organisations willing to pay for a bus pass which service user volunteers were able to use for other journeys.

Peer volunteers simply wanted confidence in a simple, prompt financial system, as one person said: “It just gives me peace of mind knowing that my costs will be covered.”

A small number of people responding to our survey shared experiences of organisations going much further in demonstrating how much they valued volunteers, for example by providing funding for laptops and training courses.

Negatives

Negative comments primarily focused on time-consuming and slow systems for reimbursing expenses for which volunteers had already paid. This was not just an inconvenience for many peer volunteers but left them short of money for necessities. The simple reality for most people early in their recovery journeys and often totally dependent on benefits was that they could not afford to subsidise their volunteering activities. Where organisations did not make it a priority to reimburse their volunteers promptly, it sent out a clear statement on how much those volunteers were – or were not – valued

I couldn't have done the volunteering or training without this financial support.

Financial Help Checklist

For people with lived experience

  • Get into the habit of getting and keeping receipts for any expenses you incur in your volunteering, think travel tickets, lunch etc. 

  • If your volunteering means you spend more on your phone or data costs, make sure to speak to your volunteer co-ordinator about this.

For providers

  • Ensure that your system for reimbursing volunteers’ expenses is prompt and easy to use. Look to refund travel and subsistence expenses on the same day the costs are incurred. 

  • Encourage all peer volunteers to record and submit their expenses. 

  • Where you are remunerating people with lived experience on a more substantial basis, be proactive in providing them with written explanations to ensure their benefits are not compromised. Take specialist advice when needed. 

  • If volunteers are expected to make extensive use of phones, computers etc. to fulfil their volunteering role, make sure these are provided. 

  • Consider providing travel passes rather than individual ticket costs when this makes financial sense for your organisation and the volunteer.

For commissioners

  • If you are commissioning a service with peer volunteers, please ask for evidence on how providers intend to financially reimburse their volunteers and assess the quality of that support based on the key points listed above.

Financial Help Resources

Good practice guides

National Voices Peer Support Hub is an online bank of high quality, curated resources for people looking to measure, evaluate, sustain and grow different types of peer support programmes.

Clinks (2020) Managing volunteers: A guide for organisations working in the criminal justice system 

 Clinks (2016) Good practice in service user involvement from the voluntary sector working in criminal justice

Investing in Volunteers is the UK quality standard for good practice in volunteer management for those organisations who want to accredit their practice.

Justice Involving Volunteers in Europe (2016) Building successful partnerships involving volunteers in the criminal justice system: a good practice guide

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations: Volunteers who claim benefits  & Paying volunteer expenses

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