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From Skills Shortages to Sustainability: How Indigo Volunteers Supports Refugee Charities

In today's blog post:

At Indigo Volunteers, we work closely with our 46 partners to address both short-term needs on the ground, as well as long-term needs impacting their organisation. Whilst we commonly shine a spotlight on the specific needs of our partners, such as current volunteer roles, we regularly and proactively communicate with our partners about the wider issues facing their work and the humanitarian context they are working in. 

Throughout 2023, our partners voiced multiple concerns that were impacting not only their own capacity, but the capacity of the humanitarian sector itself to sufficiently support refugee populations. As this blog post will explore, our partners face multiple, compounding and ongoing challenges that threaten their sustainability and prove especially complex to navigate. 

Challenges facing our partners

The Wider Context - Hostility, Hurdles and fewer Headlines

The challenging political landscape in which our partners’ operations take place severely constraints their ability to proactively address pressing needs on the ground, as well as plan for their long-term future. From difficulties in obtaining charity registration in Greece, to the worrying push for forced asylum transfers to the increasing stigmatisation of NGOs and volunteers, the environment is fraught with hostility and obstacles. As a result of this instability, our partners are forced to plan on an ad hoc basis and are unable to form dependable long-term aims that will not be impacted by external factors. 

Moreover, as our partners face bureaucratic hurdles, inefficiencies in camp management and increasing need for their services, the visibility of the refugee crisis in Europe has waned in global media. Refugee communities in areas such as Greece and northern France no longer make mainstream headlines, meaning their needs and the partners who are providing crucial support are in danger of falling out of the narrative.  A lack of visibility is a massive threat to the sustainability of our charity partners, as it impacts both volunteer interest and funding opportunities. At Indigo, we aim to consistently shine a spotlight on our partners, the work they do, and the support they need.  Across our social media, we regularly post shareable content giving insight into our partners work on the ground. Yet as our partners continue to operate within such a complex political context,  the need for support and solidarity is more critical than ever. 

Volunteer Recruitment - A Long-Term process for Short-Term volunteers

The recruitment and retention of volunteers poses a significant ongoing challenge for our partners, who rely  heavily on volunteer assistance. The recruitment, training and retention of volunteers on a short-term and long-term basis is a time consuming process that relies heavily on administrative and HR expertise.  Often operating as a small team, the majority of our partners attention is rightly focused on the day-to-day operations that their beneficiaries depend on. From organising distributions of aid to providing medical support, our partners priorities remain the communities they support

The importance of long-term volunteers cannot be overstated. They have the opportunity to deeply engage with the charity's mission and beneficiaries, develop specialised skills, and enact sustainable change within the organisation and the communities they serve. Yet, our partners are often limited by financial constraints and cannot offer paid positions or internships to volunteers. Similarly, most volunteers are unable to financially sustain themselves on a longer-term basis, meaning they cannot commit to extended periods of service. As a result, our charity partners struggle to recruit volunteers who are not only passionate about providing support, but are in a position to provide long-term specialised support. Without the continuity and dedication that long-term volunteers provide, our partners face ongoing challenges in developing their organisational capacity, implementing sustainable programs, and effectively addressing the needs of the communities they serve. If you are able to address this gap, we urge you to apply to volunteer.

At Indigo, we support our partners by conducting volunteer matching processes, taking on the administrative process of recruiting and providing resources to volunteers. By identifying volunteers with the necessary skills, expertise and experience for specific roles, we ensure our partners receive the help they need. Apply to volunteer to be matched to a charity where your skills and commitment can make a difference. 

Capacity - The Barriers to Growth

As a result of the recruitment challenges, our partners are grappling with significant capacity issues, and are having to operate at unsustainable levels due to a lack of essential skills, time and resources. Due to the short-term nature of volunteers, our partners face a persistent challenge in acquiring skilled personnel necessary for organisational growth; as an example, a lack of expertise in grant application processes or strategic marketing critically affect the sustainability of our partners. The knock-on effect of this is that there is limited capacity in the team to provide adequate mentorship and training, further hindering their organisational development. 

These capacity constraints have far-reaching consequences, severely limiting our partners' ability to provide effective support and assistance to vulnerable populations. Without access to the necessary skills and resources, our partners struggle to implement sustainable programs, address complex challenges, and respond effectively to evolving needs on the ground. Additionally, the inability to provide adequate mentorship and training to volunteers further exacerbates the situation, hindering the professional development of staff and volunteers and perpetuating a cycle of limited capacity and organisational stagnation.

These capacity constraints underscore the critical need for support and resources from initiatives like Indigo Mentors, which aims to bridge the gap by providing skilled volunteers, strategic assistance and organisational support to our partner charities. 

A woman is pointing at a pie chart that is attached to a white board. She is explaining the chart to 2 audience members, as if teaching a lesson.

Funding - Breaking the Cycle

A major issue that evidently underlies all the challenges above is funding. The scarcity of financial resources and support significantly impedes our charity partners in various aspects of their work, ultimately undermining their ability to plan for the future and sustain their operations effectively. Similar to Indigo, many of our partners depend on supporter donations, which offer an unstable form of income. This unpredictability not only hampers their ability to budget and forecast but also creates a constant sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. Without stable financial support, our partners face an uphill battle in achieving their long-term goals and making a lasting impact in the communities they serve.

 As visibility decreases but the need for our partners services increases, organisations are struggling to receive enough funding to survive. Similarly, there are fewer grants available than there are organisations, meaning access to funding is increasingly competitive. This sense of competition is particularly an issue for smaller and younger organisations, who lack access to the same entrenched networks and connections to trusts as more formidable organisations. The lack of financial stability means our partners easily become victims to a vicious cycle; With limited financial resources, they struggle to develop funding strategies or hire fundraising professionals, further impeding their ability to secure much-needed financial support.

As a result, some of our partners are having to reduce services and downsize programs to streamline their costs. In 2023, a lack of funding not only forced Indigo to pause our own volunteer-matching services, but also forced partners to pause or close their operations on the ground. Such pauses significantly impact the refugee communities who are reliant on the work of our partners, and Indigo’s ability to provide volunteers. 

We cannot let this happen again.

Indigo’s Impact - How we address challenges facing refugee charities 

At Indigo, we recognise the importance of the challenges facing refugee charities and provide support for the recruitment and retention challenge faced by our partners. Through our specialised matching, we find volunteers and place them with organisations where their specific skill-set and expertise will directly benefit the charity partners. We provide resources and training for volunteers at every stage of their volunteering journey, ensuring they are in the best position possible to volunteer safely and responsibly. 

Our work not only puts more feet on the ground, but ensures our charity partners can dedicate their time and resources to supporting refugee populations rather than administrative duties. For our partners who are limited in time, capacity and are financially unable to hire administrative support, our work is crucial. 

But don’t just take our word for it! Claire from Yoga and Sports with Refugees said the following about their partnership with Indigo:

"Indigo Volunteers have been a great asset for a grassroots organisation like us … In addition to bringing to us volunteers who are absolutely essential to our projects, they have been key actors in the protection of incoming volunteers. Indeed, they provide volunteers with training that organisations don't always have the capacity to offer, as well as invaluable mental health support. They have been major actors in making our domain safer, more professional and more sustainable."

In February of this year, we also launched Indigo Mentors to directly address our partners' concerns for capacity building. Through tailored mentorship programmes with professional corporate partners, our initiative aims to equip our charity partners with the skills and guidance necessary to conduct long-term planning in areas ranging from HR to marketing to fundraising. We are incredibly excited about the impact this programme will have in supporting the organisational development and sustainability of our incredible partners. 

How you can take action

Indigo’s work provides crucial support for our partners in multiple ways. But it costs a lot to get vital volunteers, training and resources to projects around the world, all for free. ​

If you’re in a position to do so, we urge you to consider running a fundraiser in your local area to support Indigo and our partners. Fundraising is a hugely valuable source of income to Indigo Volunteers and a key enabler of the important support we provide to our partners.

£52 pays for the placement of one volunteer with one of our partners

£56 pays for the support to one of our partner organisations for a month

£1 creates £23 of impact through Indigo's services

From a sponsored walk to a bake sale, every contribution makes a difference. Whether it’s your first time fundraising or you’re a seasoned pro, we have all the information you may need to host a successful fundraising event. 

By fundraising for Indigo, you will get people and resources where they are needed most

Thank you for your support. 

If you are in Edinburgh, mark your calendars for April 6th. To celebrate International Day of Sport, Indigo is hosting a 5k Walk for Refugees in the city centre. Find out more about the Edinburgh event here

This is a leaflet advertising a fundraising event in Edinburgh, Walk 5k for refugees. The evet details are listed, including the April 6th date, the challenge description, the meeting point at Sam's coffee, and the QR code to sign up.


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