In addition, I’d recommend attending our annual Volunteering Fair and applying for recognition for your volunteering hours every year.

There is no such thing as an ‘ideal student volunteer’. Everyone needs to take into consideration the amount of time and energy they can commit to volunteering and make plans accordingly. If you have the time and energy, this is the path I would recommend using our service.


I found out about the Khan Academy through Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it or thought of it before. It just makes so much sense – setting a lecture as homework, and then doing what would have been set as homework during the lesson, with the teacher able to support students who are struggling.

Students are able to take the lessons at their own pace and can do follow up or related lessons as they are interested. The teacher’s job is to help motivate and boost passion – freed up from having to plan several lectures each day.

It provides a range of opportunities to volunteer – either as subtitlers or translators the video lessons, or in tutoring someone as they go through the programme. Excellent.

The funniest bit is when Bill Gates pops up to do a bit of Q & A.

Seth Godin has published an amazing 30,000 word manifesto on everything that is wrong with education and (I expect) how to fix it. I say with expectation as I am only about 2 / 5ths of the way through it. Nevertheless, it’s a remarkable read and certainly something that I hope teachers and senior management teams in schools all over the world will engage with.


Stop Stealing Dreams

You can download free it in any number of versions from the link above – I’m using the version for screen and reading through about 40 pages a day. I’ll try to pick a highlight from each day to share on here – but it’s tough because there’s something quotable in every section. He writes in short blog posts – each a perfectly formed and expressed idea. He’s a wonderful simplifier and communicator and an inspiring teacher to millions.

Section 17 – on the Reinvention of Schools

  • Homework during the day, lectures at night
  • Open book, open note, all the time
  • Access to any course, anywhere in the world
  • Precise, focused instruction instead of mass, generalized instruction
  • The end of multiple-choice exams
  • Experience instead of test scores as a measure of achievement
  • The end of compliance as an outcome
  • Cooperation instead of isolation
  • Amplification of outlying students, teachers, and ideas
  • Transformation of the role of the teacher
  • Lifelong learning, earlier work
  • Death of the nearly famous college

How about that for a throwaway selection?! I think the one that appeals to me most at the moment is the idea of ‘experience instead of test scores as a measure of achievement’. How can we measure experience? I think we have to break it down and communicate it – through art, poetry, blogging, engaging others and telling the story of how experience has changed us.

ImageI have spent the last couple of years trying to develop our approach to student-led volunteering – with some success stories and some projects that have not come to fruition…yet.

Each student that wants to run a project has to go through a fairly robust process: registering their interest; developing their idea into a five page application; pitching their project to a funding panel at UBS; project management training, project planning and budget setting and attending regular meetings with their project management coach (a UBS employee volunteer).

Sometimes I worry that this asks too much of these students, but the process is beneficial for everyone to go through. Students learn to develop an idea, communicate it to a broad audience and gain advanced project management skills, such as resolving conflict, motivating volunteers and liaising with stakeholders at every level of the project.

When a project doesn’t work, the application process still provides an excellent opportunity to reflect and learn how problems can arise and how to avoid them arising next time.

The satisfaction that students gain from seeing their idea come to life is huge and when their project is successful there are so many winners!

  • Direct beneficiaries gain from seeing a need met
  • Student volunteers get to participate in something taking place at extremely local level
  • Student project leaders gain all sorts of skills, plaudits and satisfaction from seeing their work come to fruition
  • Project management coaches get to see their skills leveraged to make a difference in the local community – not just in a financial setting
  • The university benefits from an enhanced reputation and positive publicity for its students
  • The volunteering service benefits from having a greater range and scale of volunteering opportunities available to its students and hopefully a sustainable project that can outlast any one staff member

All of us benefit from having more confident, skilled young leaders who know how to make a difference. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d prefer to have fewer projects of higher quality go through the programme.

There’s nothing to do but wait and deal with it. No point in worrying.

Yesterday I wrote about the value of volunteer managers putting themselves in their volunteers’ shoes. Today I want to explain the process that I followed when I did that – some of it is specific to our volunteer brokerage website, but the principles are the same with other systems.

The opportunities that this student needed to find had to give them the opportunity to gain 30 hours experience in a project or role which would either “get them in touch with the grassroots issues of peoples’ lives” or “stretch their leadership experience in new and untested ways”.


I logged into my volunteer profile, using the same email address and password I’d registered with.

Firstly, I edited my interests on the profile page to reflect what I felt were ‘grassroots’ issues – things people care about. We’re allowed to pick up to six categories, so I went with:

Environment, Health, Children, Community, Education and Literacy, Politics

I then selected ‘Matched Opportunities’, with a list of 115 to choose from! I spent probably about thirty minutes browsing the different opportunities, matching them with my personal interests and the criteria required by the students and came up with four most ideal selections.

New Leadership Experiences

  • Volunteer at an Easter / Summer Camp for seriously ill young people

Lots of potential for developing leadership – in running team activities like kayaking and horse-riding – but also in listening to the young people and supporting other volunteers.  It would be personally and emotionally challenging but fun and ultimately rewarding. An added bonus is that the volunteer would rack up 30+ volunteer hours in the space of a week.

  • Games Walk Leader – Planning and Leading Short Walks (<5 Miles) around the Olympics Sites

I enjoy walking. It’s a great volunteer role that ties in walking with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity running parallel to the Olympic Games. You’d have to think strategically about points of interest and analyse potential routes. You would develop verbal communication skills (including public speaking) by leading the walks and you get to meet a whole new group of people – all of whom have an understanding of grassroots issues.

Grassroots Issues

  • Providing one-to-one tuition for inner-city school students
It’s great to give something back and learn first hand about education in this setting. Through helping someone to achieve at this stage, you’re helping to set them up for life. There is a small danger that you would not be able to meet thirty hours doing this before summer – schools close over Easter etc. However, I think it’s still a great opportunity and I wouldn’t overlook it.
  • Volunteer Debt Adviser
You’d learn how people get into debt and what socio-economic factors keep them there. I think being able to put a human face and story to a topical political issue practically demonstrates that you know what you are talking about. You would also gain satisfaction from supporting people towards finding a solution to a deeply stressful situation.
As it turns out,  each of these opportunities gives you the chance to exhibit new leadership skills and learn about grassroots issues. That’s because you’re working with people, and just about every volunteering opportunity out there gives you experience of working with people. I think that these opportunities are great, but that’s because they appeal to my interests and previous experience. Most of the 115 opportunities would have met the criteria.
Before I would apply, I’d check each organisations website out for more information. Applying for each opportunity is simply a case of clicking the ‘Apply’ button at the bottom of the role description.
Sometimes potential volunteers can get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice available to them. Thinking strategically about it doesn’t take much time, but can help ensure that they pick the right placement.
*EDIT* – Volunteer Addict recently posted a blog about how to think about volunteering overseas – I couldn’t let it go without a link. It comes from the experienced perspective of Bec Ordish, Founder and Director of the Mitrataa Foundation in Nepal.

This morning I received an email from an International Politics student who wants to put in an application for an internship in Washington D.C. In two days time. The application form requires the applicant to have completed thirty hours of volunteering by the summer which either “gets them in touch with the grassroots issues of peoples’ lives” or “stretches their leadership experience in new and untested ways”. For the purposes of the application, they only have to list a selection of projects / opportunities which they will choose from.

Firstly, I think this is a really good criterion from the internship providers. What better way for someone to demonstrate that they have a solid understanding of grassroots issues than by ensuring that they have a story and a human face to contextualise that issue? What better way to demonstrate leadership skills than to talk about the circumstances in which they were gained?

Grassroots shoes

A volunteer's shoes, with some grass roots

Secondly, it put me into that student’s shoes. I am speaking to a group of International Politics students next week on how volunteering can help support their career. This very recent case-study provided me with a framework for my talk. Rather than telling students exactly which volunteering opportunity they should undertake to get their perfect career kick-started (exactly what students want to hear, but does such an opportunity, or career, exist?!) or by re-iterating how valuable volunteering can be for employability (exactly what they expect to hear), instead I am able to share my experience and knowledge of our service to help them find an opportunity that is relevant to their field of study.

This is a win for the students concerned, but it’s also a win for me. I’ve spent an enjoyable couple of hours working through how I would approach this challenge. It helped me identify a couple of out of date opportunities, giving me the chance to re-connect with a couple of organisations I hadn’t spoken too in a while and it reminded me of just how powerful our search engine tool is.

I’ll explain my thought process tomorrow!

…is a widely used euphemism for “lowering expectations”. Why don’t we ever manage expectations so that people expect more of us?

We want to manage your expectations of this event…it will be stupendous.

ImageIt’s Student Volunteering Week and we have launched nominations for our annual Awards Ceremony, which has got me thinking about the way in which we recognise volunteers.

I love the ceremony and I think it’s an excellent way to highlight the achievements of students who have gone above and beyond to make a noticeable impact in the local community. I think that the Volunteering England Gold Award categories (Achievement, Dedication and Leadership) are good and important things to celebrate.

But what about the volunteers who make a smaller, but no less important or meaningful contribution. I feel that there is more that I need to offer to our students beyond a certificate of participation.

We recognise volunteers so that they feel valued, to help ensure that they want to keep volunteering with us, because they give up their most valuable resource (time) to help others. I don’t think there’s any one method to provide recognition that is better than others but from my time in youthwork, I think praise is best when it is:

  • regular
  • specific
  • heartfelt / genuine
  • delivered face-to-face
  • aware of the recipient (e.g would they like to be acknowledged in front of peers, or would they die of embarrassment?)

An aside: I love that UCL have set up an exhibition dedicated to ten years of student volunteering through their Volunteering Services Unit. It’s a great visual way to show the significance and variety of volunteering that has taken place over that time. I hope to visit soon.

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Some awesome students from our business school put together this concert for local older people on Valentine’s Day. They faced many setbacks along the way, including several band members dropping out a couple of weeks prior to the concert. However, the student leader persevered and put on a great show which the whole audience loved. I think perseverance in the face of adversity is one of the most valuable lessons that we can learn.

Our Community Leadership Programme helps students with an idea to meet a local need. We provide them with project management training, access to a fund to cover their costs (up to £250) and a project management coach from UBS. You can read about other projects that have come through this programme on our Wall of Fame.