Volunteer support for people with financial problems is effective but “the problems are sometimes too complex”

People with financial problems can often get support from volunteers. On 24 November, Jansje van Middendorp will receive her PhD for her research into the effectiveness of that support. “Volunteers can help prevent more serious financial difficulties, but sometimes the problems are too complex or applicants drop out early. After that, problems can actually increase and volunteers can become demotivated.”

Municipalities and social organisations often use volunteers to support people with concerns about money. Jansje van Middendorp determined that clients who participated in her research and completed the support programme have less serious financial problems and experience more peace of mind afterwards. “Volunteers can be especially helpful when someone has lost track of their income, expenses, and debts. They provide support for sorting out the income and expenses, applying for income support schemes and, if necessary, making repayment arrangements with creditors. They can also help to gather the documents required to access formal debt support.”

Administratie aan bureau met rekenmachine, schrijfblok en laptop
Foto: Mikhail Nilov via Pexels

After the support programme, some of the clients are able to handle administration and finances independently again. Others are supported further by formal debt assistance services. There is also a group of clients who require long-term support. “My research shows that support programmes are particularly effective when the goal of the support has been achieved and the programme is completed,” says the external PhD candidate, who is employed by Spectrum to support municipalities and organisations in their poverty and debt projects. 

Problematic debts 

However, far from all programmes are successful. More than a quarter of the clients in Van Middendorp's research dropped out early, after which their financial problems may increase. “The problems are too complex sometimes. There seem to be an increasing number of clients with problematic debts who cannot or do not want to utilise formal debt support. There is also an increase in applicants who have mental health problems, mild intellectual disabilities, emerging dementia, or major health issues.” 

Dropouts often demotivate volunteers. “It is a shame. Of course, we want to prevent them from quitting as volunteer support workers,” the researcher said. Reasons for dropping out can lie with the client, but may also lie with the volunteer. “Sometimes it goes awry when a volunteer does not treat the client appropriately, for example by being judgmental, giving unsolicited advice, or taking over too many tasks. A good relationship between applicant and the volunteer is very important for a programme to succeed.” 

Lower healthcare costs 

According to Van Middendorp, coordinators at local welfare and volunteer organisations have an important role in guiding and training volunteers and coordinating with professionals from other organisations. They can help define the target group and set clear boundaries in terms of the kind of support volunteers can provide.

According to the researcher, the findings of the thesis can also contribute to better collaboration in the debt-relief chain, between municipalities, agencies, and volunteer organisations. “The use of volunteers can go a long way in preventing more serious financial problems and increasing the financial skills of those seeking help. Indirectly, this can also lead to reduced social isolation, less stress, and better health of the clients — and therefore lower healthcare costs.” 

Jansje van Middendorp is a senior consultant at Spectrum, a consultancy for social challenges. She will defend her thesis in the Aula of Radboud University on Thursday 24 November 2022 at 12.30 p.m. 

Contact information

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Organizational unit
Radboud Social Cultural Research
Society, Health & Healthcare