Cara MacMahon linking volunteers to groups in need

Talk to anyone who has ever volunteered, and they will tell you how it’s changed their perspective, developed their skills and given them a profound sense of wellbeing and fulfilment.

The benefits to charities that rely on volunteers are huge, enabling them to provide services and support which would be out of their reach if they had to pay for staff time. All of which leads to significant benefits to society.

“Quartet takes a real interest in what’s happening in North Somerset.”

-Cara MacMahon Chief Executive Voluntary Action North Somerset (VANS)

In the face of ongoing public sector funding cuts, Cara and other key third sector leaders in North Somerset realised that it was more important than ever to get local people involved in volunteering, but due to a lack of infrastructure there was no efficient way to broker the relationships they needed.

VANS is the voice, support and developer of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in North Somerset – and they knew that it was vital to help the 500 plus charities in the area find volunteers and make good use of their skills. But they also knew that making this a reality would require money that VANS simply did not have. So they approached Quartet, and we were able to fund the project, and break through the impasse, with impressive long-term results.

Cara explains why she approached Quartet for a Step Change grant, support of up to £10,000 aimed at organisations looking to make a significant change.

“Quartet wants to find solutions to today’s problems, so I knew that we could have a ‘grown up’ conversation with them, to figure out the best way forward.”

-Cara MacMahon Chief Executive Voluntary Action North Somerset (VANS)

VANS had found that the national volunteering database was inadequate for the area’s needs and that there was no other local organisation besides VANS that was well-placed to act as the information source and broker for the hundreds of volunteers and volunteering opportunities that come forward each year.

“We knew that local charities – many of them operating on less than £5,000 income a year – needed help to capture the imagination of potential volunteers. We also knew that there were lots of people here who wanted to volunteer, if only they could find an organisation that would use their skills well, and which chimed with their values.”

-Cara MacMahon Chief Executive Voluntary Action North Somerset (VANS)

“Thanks to the Step Change grant from Quartet we were able to set up an easy to use database where charities and volunteers could post their profiles. It works a bit like a ‘dating’ website, matching people with relevant volunteering opportunities.  It is intuitive for people to use.

“We’ve also given training to charities so they have the skills to market their volunteering better, and we’ve set up a forum and newsletter so that people who coordinate volunteers can learn from and support each other.”

Through supporting volunteering in North Somerset, Quartet is helping to change the lives of the volunteers and the people who get help from the charities they support.

There are other benefits starting to emerge too.

“Because we have this database and support in place”, says Cara, “we’re now able to work with North Somerset Council on other plans to help more people support their local community through volunteering. The database development has allowed VANs to make a case for realising volunteer potential, and we’ve secured additional funding from North Somerset Partnership to develop that work. This wouldn’t have happened without the Step Change funding.”

As so often happens, knowledge of local issues and needs – demonstrated by Quartet’s staff – has led to a grant that has consequences far into the future.

You can read our other #thirtylives stories here and watch the film we made to celebrate our anniversary on Youtube.