Marian Harkin Expresses Her delight that the European Parliament have supported 2011 as part of the European Year of Volunteering.

As leader of the campaign to have the year 2011 designated by the EU as ‘The European Year of Volunteering’, Marian Harkin MEP has warmly welcomed the overwhelming vote in favour of the designation by the European Parliament in its Plenary Session in Strasbourg today, Thursday, November 26th.

“This is the culmination of the Campaign I organised with cross group colleagues from different countries to secure deserved recognition for the role the 100 million volunteers play throughout the European Union and not least in Ireland.

“I am also very happy that the increase of €1 million I proposed has resulted in a €3 million preparatory budget for 2010 while the overall commitment for 2011 is now €10 million.

Two and a half years ago I proposed this idea as part of my Report on Volunteering to the Parliament and then successfully led a Written Declaration from the Parliament to the Commission on this matter. I am so grateful for the support of voluntary groups throughout the EU and also from the Committee of the Regions. This was an example of a collaborative success between the voluntary sector, the Parliament and the Commission and as an avid supporter of the Community and Voluntary Sector I am proud to have played the leading role in the European Parliament.

“In Ireland volunteering and volunteers play a huge role in providing a range of services and I look forward to seeing the contribution of these 1.5 million plus activists duly recognised in the Irish celebrations throughout 2011.

Press Release from Volunteer Centres Ireland

Date: 2nd September 2009

THE recession has seen a massive increase in the number of Irish people seeking to volunteer in their local communities.

New figures released today (WEDNESDAY) show that the amount of citizens who are prepared to give up their time to help others has more than doubled over the past year.

For the first time a large number of young people are citing the fact that they have recently been made redundant as a primary reason for volunteering. The release of these new figures from Volunteer Centres Ireland (VCI) coincide with the latest statistics from the CSO, which shows that more than 440,000 people are now on the Live Register. The standardized unemployment rate has climbed to 12.4%.

A total of 8,551 individuals have registered to volunteer with Volunteer Centres Ireland – the state supported national volunteering organisation.  This represents an increase of more than 115 per cent on last year.

There has also been a large increase in the number of not-for-profit organisations looking for volunteers to assist them.  This figure now stands at 3,650 representing an increase of more than 1,000 over the past year.

More than 2,500 individuals have already been placed in volunteering opportunities which will generate almost one quarter of a million hours of volunteering in 2009.  This directly equates to nearly 150 full-time equivalent workers and almost €3.5 million in earnings.

The Chief Executive of VCI, Yvonne McKenna, says the most striking aspect of the new figures is the changing profile of volunteers in Ireland and how young people are reacting to the recession.

“One positive consequence of our changed economic circumstances has been an explosion in active citizenship as people are seeking to re-engage in their communities and help both others and themselves by volunteering,” said Dr McKenna.

“It has become abundantly clear that thousands of people who have either lost their jobs or, indeed, cannot find work after graduating from second or third level education are being proactive and are seeking out fulfilling opportunities and the chance to learn skills that could lead to full-time employment.

“Our 20 Volunteer Centres around the country, which match willing volunteers with suitable opportunities in their area, and our website,, have witnessed unprecedented activity recently.”

Seven out of ten volunteers are 35 years of age or younger.  Half of these are below the age of 25.  Six out of ten people who have registered to volunteer this year have never done so before.

Of the volunteers who have recently been made redundant, 60 per cent are below the age of 35.

“Irish society and the economic landscape has changed faster over the past 18 months than it has in several decades.  Hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs are suffering but community organisations that provide essential services to the less well off have also seen their funding radically cut,” said Dr McKenna.

“The silver lining in this very dark cloud is the way that people who have little or no previous experience of economic hardship have reacted.  They are stepping up, showing solidarity and seeking out opportunities where they can donate their time and existing abilities while helping others and acquiring new skills.

“We have witnessed several situations where people who have volunteered have found work directly as a result of that process and who continue to volunteer while working.”


For more information or to set up an interview with Dr Yvonne McKenna please contact Deirdre Grant on 086 0484 279

Editor’s note:

Volunteer Centres Ireland (VCI) is the representative body for Ireland’s community of Volunteer Centres. It is a national organisation with responsibility for developing volunteering nationally and locally. VCI manage the only national database of volunteering opportunities through its website -

There are currently 20 volunteer centres that are members of VCI, located across the length and breadth of the country. As well as coordinating activities for the national day of volunteering, VCI regularly contribute to the debate on the role of the voluntary sector in Ireland and assisted the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in developing the national policy on volunteer centres in Ireland.

NewGiveItSwirllogo.epsGive it a Swirl – The National Day of Volunteering – will take place on Friday 25th September and South Dublin County Volunteer Centre are once again facilitating projects in the South Dublin County area.

We wish to remind you that the closing date for registration is fast approaching and that we’d be happy to help your group flesh out a proposal, should you have an idea in mind. We will then actively seek businesses/volunteers to carry out your project.

Click here to download our project application form

Click here to download some frequently asked questions.

Click here to download some examples of projects carried out in the past.

Click here to download our checklist for organisations

Click here for more information on Give it a Swirl day

Please feel free to contact us for more information

Tallaght Office

Tel: 01-462 8558

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Clondalkin Office

Tel: 01-457 9176

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29.05.09 Curran announces funding for network of volunteer centres across Ireland

John Curran T.D., Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy, Community Affairs and Integration, at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, today announced a funding package of €2.8 million in 2009 for a network of 21 volunteer centres across Ireland. The primary role of the centres is to match members of the public interested in volunteering with local community organisations seeking volunteers.

Following a review in 2008 of a three-year pilot scheme to fund volunteer centres, Minister Curran also launched a series of measures to support the network of centres into the future. Volunteer Centres in 21 locations will be funded, including in Carlow, Cork, Donegal, Drogheda, Dublin City South, Dublin City North, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Limerick (County and City), Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Sligo, South Dublin, Tipperary, Westmeath and Wicklow.

Announcing the funding Minister Curran said:

“Ireland can be proud of its long tradition of volunteering. While Irish society has undergone many fundamental changes in recent years, we have retained a tradition of people helping each other, of coming together and pooling resources and skills when a task needs to be done.  The fact that we are now seeing a significant increase in the number of people of all ages and backgrounds who are interested in volunteering bodes well, I believe, for our volunteering culture into the future.

Over the last number of years, the Government has sought to encourage the dynamism of volunteers and communities working together, and has prioritised significant new resources in support of this. These new policy measures and the funding that I am announcing today is a further sign of the Government’s ongoing commitment to creating an enabling environment where volunteering can flourish.”

Note for Editors
The aim of the policy measures for the network of volunteer centres is to maximise their impact in generating and supporting volunteering opportunities, on a value for money basis. Key points contained within the policy document include:

  • Provision of quantifiable service standards for volunteer centres;
  • Introduction of a peer-review mechanism to assess the performance of centres;
  • Clarity and guidelines regarding funding;
  • Cost sharing with local agencies
Volunteers pitching in at the Dublin City South Volunteer Centre.
Volunteers pitching in at the Dublin City South Volunteer Centre.

Photograph: Eric Luke


Since the recession hit, there has been a marked upturn in people helping others, writes EOIN BURKE-KENNEDY .

THE RECESSION has led to a dramatic rise in the number of people registering for voluntary work, according to the Government-funded agency Volunteer Centres Ireland (VCI).

The agency says some of its centres have reported a 100 per cent increase in registrations for the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2008.

“Having free time has always been one of the top reasons for volunteering but recently we are noticing a significant number of people citing redundancy as their primacy motivation,” VCI chief executive Dr Yvonne McKenna says.

“There is evidence to show there is a link between the increase in volunteering and the fact that people are out of work or have less hours of work,” McKenna says.

VCI has a network of 20 centres across the State which matches volunteers to organisations seeking recruits.

Last year, the centres enlisted 7,500 individuals, 3,000 of whom were placed with various organisations, and they increased their list of registered bodies to 2,400.

So far this year, the agency has registered 3,044 individuals and 418 organisations.

McKenna believes the impact of the recession has been two-fold. “People have more time to volunteer and non-profit organisations are more in need of resources,” she says.

But she admits the link between volunteering and the economy is not well understood and says volunteers’ motives are often complex and multi-faceted.

International evidence does not support the hypothesis that when people become unemployed they are more likely to volunteer. Some countries have even witnessed a decrease in volunteering during downturns.

“Equally the perception that volunteering was in decline during the Celtic Tiger years – and that people became too rich or too tired to volunteer – was not borne out by our figures which showed a steady increase in volunteering throughout the boom,” McKenna says.

“What we are noticing in the last three months is a hike in the trend.”

One of the problems with analysing volunteering trends in Ireland is the dearth of available data.

However, the latest population census, published in 2006, did contain questions relating to volunteering for the first time.

It revealed that one in six Irish people had volunteered “in a formal capacity” in the previous three months.

Despite the perception we have of ourselves as caring and charitable, the census figure suggests we do not volunteer as much as our EU or US neighbours, where average rates are consistently above 30 per cent.

Nevertheless, experts maintain much of the volunteering in Ireland takes place on an informal basis and the statistics deflate the true picture.

According to the census, the average volunteer in Ireland is in their 40s and equally likely to be male or female.

The activity with the highest recorded number of volunteers is social or charitable work, which accounts for 34.8 per cent of active volunteers or 5.7 per cent of the total population aged 15 and over.

The next most common activity involved working with sporting organisations which accounts for 32.6 per cent of active volunteering.

A further 25.9 per cent of volunteers said they worked regularly with a religious or church organisation.

Women made up 61 per cent of voluntary workers involved with a religious group or church and 59 per cent of voluntary social and charitable workers, while men accounted for 69 per cent of those involved in voluntary sporting activities and 58 per cent of political volunteers.

Most of those enrolling with VCI have a younger age profile, which the agency attributes to its online presence and the fact that older people may already know where to go to volunteer.

NUI Galway psychologist Dr Pádraig MacNeela, who has carried out research on the reasons behind volunteering, says the motivational profile of individuals varies with age and social role.

MacNeela says young people sometimes volunteer to enhance their career prospects, seeing the move as a stepping stone to build up experience.Whereas parents and middle-aged people often volunteer for organisations they have an association with, like the local school or club “often out of a sense of obligation”.

Elderly people may volunteer to stay active or to avoid the social isolation that comes with retirement, he says.

Generally volunteers express some sort of altruistic motivation or what MacNeela defines as “values expression” – the idea that it is the right thing to do.

However, surveys consistently reveal the top reason people give for not volunteering is simply because they have never been asked.

In the past two decades, there has been a growing body of research highlighting the health benefits of volunteering.

Several recent US studies suggest those who volunteer enjoy lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, lower rates of depression and even reduced levels of heart disease.

The studies indicate older people benefit more than the young as their volunteering is more likely to be discretionary rather than obligatory.

Younger people are also less likely to experience ill-health, thereby making it difficult to measure the benefits.

However, some experts have cast doubt on the health benefits, claiming studies have not accounted for the fact that it is the more happy, active and well-adjusted people who volunteer and therefore enjoy better health anyway.

Clinical psychologist Dr Michael Byrne says: “When most people think of volunteering they think of the gratitude they may receive which can be very emotionally nourishing to an individual.”

Often referred to as a “helper’s high”, it can increase self-acceptance and reduce the sense of isolation often suffered by those who find themselves unemployed, or at a stage in their life like retirement, he says.

Volunteering builds people’s civic engagement and connects people into society, he says.

Byrne believes men are more inclined to opt for volunteering jobs that tap into the “I am what I do” ethos or for roles based on their professional skills, whereas women seem to take on the care roles which are often overlooked and undervalued by society.

But he warns of the dangers of “role overload” whereby volunteers over-extend themselves by pledging too much of their time – making the return from volunteering not worth the effort.

Some companies have begun to move away from solely giving money to charity, and are now encouraging staff to take time off and volunteer as part of their corporate social responsibility ethos.

Equally, non-profit organisations have become more professional about their business, employing more paid staff and applying more rigorous standards to their work practices.

It has become clear to many agencies that volunteers can paradoxically become a drain on the organisation if adequate systems to manage and support them are not put in place.

In other people's shoes

Fiona Sexton (37) from Ringsend seized upon a gap between jobs to fulfil a long-held ambition to volunteer.

“I’ve done a lot of fundraising but I’ve always felt somewhat removed from the social problems going on around me. I felt I lived in a bubble.

“A friend suggested I consider becoming an adult literacy tutor because I loved to read and it might be fun to relay some of my passion for books.”

Fiona is now training to be a tutor with the National Adult Literacy Agency (Nala) for two hours a week at Ringsend VEC.

A previous attempt to volunteer with one organisation had foundered on “the big commitment in hours” required by the agency which Fiona felt she could not happily fit into her busy work schedule.

“This time round, I realised there are lots of types of volunteering and you can choose the hours that suit you best.

“Volunteering has increased my awareness of the problem of adult literacy.

“It has forced me to put myself in other people’s shoes and I’ve come to realise just how easy people can fall into these problems.

“The psychology part of adult education is what I have found most interesting,” she says.

“You’ve got to know where people are coming from and how many upsets they’ve had in life because of this problem and how many times they’ve had to hide it and how courageous it is for them to walk in the door and seek help.”

The VCI website address is

February 15, 2009

Volunteer boom in bust economy

Voluntary organisations report a big rise in the number of unemployed professionals offering to work on community projects

McKenna, centre, says volunteering helps people build self-esteem and learn skills

McKenna, centre, says volunteering helps people build self-esteem and learn skills

At the height of the economic boom, Bertie Ahern, the former taoiseach, lamented that Irish society had become so “selfish and materialistic” it had lost its community spirit. Three years and one recession later, the number of people willing to work for free is rising at a rate of more than 1,000 a month.

Educated professionals who have found themselves on the dole for the first time are leading a surge in the number of people signing up for volunteer work, and Volunteer Centres Ireland (VCI) predicts the numbers this year will break previous records.

The agency, which co-ordinates volunteering organisations and matches people to available positions, said 7,545 people registered with it in 2008, double the previous year’s figure. The number is predicted to grow this year to 12,000.

Only 3,000 of last year’s applicants have been given an opportunity to actually get involved in organisations such as charities or local sporting clubs, but Yvonne McKenna, the VCI’s chief executive, said it was trying to speed up this process as there are currently 14,000 places to fill. Candidates must be matched with suitable opportunities and have to be vetted by gardai for certain roles.

“People were volunteering during the Celtic tiger, but they had less time to give,” McKenna said. “Now, there are plenty of people out of work, with time on their hands, and some of them volunteer full time. This is especially common in sport, with some people training teams for up to 70 hours a week.”

She said that volunteering provides people affected by the recession a chance to stay busy, maintain self-esteem, discover new abilities and even meet people who could help them find new employment. “Losing a job can have a huge impact on your confidence. Volunteering enables you to find out what other skills you have and develop them, so the benefits are enormous.”

Previously well-paid public relations officers, website designers and tradesmen are now doing the same job for free because they can continue to gain experience, and future employers won’t see a gap in their CV.

“We always had a good influx of volunteers but we’ve noticed an increase particularly of skilled volunteers,” said Roughan McNamara, the communications manager for Focus Ireland, which helps the homeless.

Andrej Chodyko, 29, left Czestochowa, southern Poland, in 2005 to search for work in Ireland, and has been honing his network engineering skills by managing 20 computers for Suas Educational Development, a Dublin-based fundraising organisation for Indian and Kenyan schools.

Chodyko, who had never been able to find paid IT work in Ireland, lost his job as a car valet last year. “When I came to Ireland, my English wasn’t good enough for an IT job, so I worked as a plumber, and in warehouses,” said Chodyko. “A friend told me about volunteering and I contacted one of the VCI centres. I’m learning a lot from managing this network at Suas and I hope this experience will help me get a paid position.”

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