But what of the third side of the triangle, the volunteers themselves? As it turns out, volunteering can be a hugely positive experience, and sometimes in a surprising way, as I discovered when I recently retired from a 40-year career in IT.
There are really only two categories of people who retire: those who insist that they have spent a lifetime doing what they did for a living, and are never going to touch it again; and those who recognise that they have a lifetime’s worth of skills and wish to use them.
It’s this second group that often has a unique opportunity in the voluntary sector.
I was employed in a senior software role in a multi-national conglomerate. I had lots to offer, but when I turned 60 that offering did not sit comfortably with management’s perception of my apparently limited future. Others in the same post-60 age group found the same thing.
The culture felt ageist despite stated corporate policy. And I know the same is true in many organisations.
So retirement arrived with a sigh of relief as much as anything. But I was determined that I would find a way of trading on my IT skills, and as luck would have it, spotted a flyer for West Lothian’s IT Buddies scheme. This initiative provides volunteer support to close the ‘digital gap’ for the one in five of the population who lack basic online skills.
Given that the government is moving fast-forward on its Digital by Default agenda – everything from tax and benefits to online shopping – this support is vital for many people. It also does fun stuff, like introducing the world of Skype, iPlayer, voice search and so forth to older people who would never have imagined using a tablet or iPad. Volunteering was a no-brainer.
But the surprise is that this whole journey, brief though it has been so far, has an unexpected bonus. In meeting the organisers of the scheme, being interviewed, accepted and trained, I find I am once again in a place that feels like it has a future for me. I feel valued. My self-esteem has improved. I know that I’ll be making a difference.
This must be the personal story of many who volunteer in all sorts of areas. A story where initial expectations of donating as a volunteer transform into a win-win.
Customers, clients and users of the volunteer services benefit, of course, but so does the volunteer. So I would encourage anyone on the cusp of retirement with skills of any sort – people skills, technical ability, whatever – to get out there and get involved. You will change lives – maybe your own included.
Iain A Masterton is a retired consultant software engineer. He lives in West Lothian.