The media has been awash with stories about volunteering since the Olympics. I think this is brilliant. At last, thanks to the highly visible purple and pink Olympic Games Makers and Team London volunteers, the mainstream public consciousness has cottoned on to the armies of invisible volunteers that keep this country ticking. The Daily Telegraph has even started its own awards for volunteers.
So what now?
Immediately, there is an opportunity for these volunteers to shine once more during the Paralympics – and here’s hoping the media keep up the good work.
Pete Wishart MP has rightly called for volunteers to be honoured at this years Sports Personality of the Year awards, although I don’t see why they need a new category and cannot simply be put up for Team Of The Year. This would, of course, be in addition to the existing Unsung Heroes category at SPOTY, that every year acknowledges the hard work of sports volunteers across the UK.
In the sector, I hope the success of the Olympic volunteers might open a few minds to the potential of volunteering to many a good cause. Hopefully, some sadly-still-held stereotypes of volunteers being interfering do-gooders who are only capable of stuffing envelopes will change. The sector needs to realise that increasingly volunteers are people with a wealth of talents, skills and abilities to transform this country for the better, if only someone would let them do more than shaking a collecting tin.
And what of government? Oh dear. A new organisation backed with £2m of government money to promote volunteering. Let’s look at each of those elements in turn:
A new organisation
In opposition, the Conservatives swore that no new institutions would be set up to replicate the work of existing bodies. So here is a new organisation doing the work that volunteer centres and others do day-in day-out up and down the UK.
£2m of public money
Considering the Games Makers alone are estimated to have ‘saved’ the public purse £1.5billion (that is what it would have cost to employ people to do their work), £2m seems a bit puny. Just 0.01 per cent of that figure is going to be invested in volunteering.
Yet again, we see people buying into the myth that to get more people volunteering we have to tell more people that opportunities exist. While this certainly helps, the real need is to help organisations create engaging and exciting volunteering opportunities that will meet the expectations of those who have been inspired to give time by the Games. Given many organisations have slashed their volunteer management budgets to fund yet more fundraising, this could be a real challenge for some. In fact, making it easier for the public to find volunteering opportunities when those opportunities are, quite frankly, often not very good, risks damaging volunteering rather than helping to secure a successful legacy.
So, the legacy thus far is a mixed bag. Time will tell if the good outweighs the bad. I hope it does.
What do you think?