A poor Olympic legacy for volunteering?

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.

Promote 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?

7 Responses to “A poor Olympic legacy for volunteering?”

  1. John Clarke

    There is plenty of opportunity for volunteering bodies to put themselves out there on the back of the success of the Olympic volunteers. Many have been featured in local papers, blogs and the like, using the Olympic ‘hook’ to convince editors and publishers that what they have been doing for years is finally newsworthy.

    However, the government has been more of a hindrance than a help. I too looked on with dismay at the creation of this new organisation, which simply does what a conservative government does best – assume everyone working in the third sector is stupid and needs an expensive, useless body run on ‘business principles’ to oversee them, tell them what to do and waste a lot of money that could be better spent by the organisations themselves.

  2. Janet Thorne

    I can only agree with Rob – thrilled that the Olympics has raised the profile of volunteering, and updated the image of volunteering in the public mind but very disappointed that a new organisation is being set up which will duplicate rather than support the organisations who have the expertise and infrastructure to do the work. And 100% agree that the place where investment is most needed is in supporting more organisations to engage with volunteers more creatively and productively.


    I can hardly belive that the government is seriously going to invets in YET ANOTHER volunteering organisation. Please don’t do it – again!

  4. Chris Hornet

    Nick Hurd’s very words were that they would build on what works rather than spending money on ‘a lunch, a launch and a logo’. Although to be fair Join In was always about getting more people involved in sport rather than volunteering (which of course means that Govt hasn’t put any money directly into a volunteering legacy)

    Maybe we should just accept that there was never going to be an Olympic volunteering ‘legacy’. There was certainly never any real impetus from LOCOG/Govt for a volunteering legacy beforehand so why should we expect one to suddenly appear? Lets enjoy the limelight that volunteers and volunteering gained during the Olympics, learn a few lessons from it, be better as organisations at involving and manging volunteers and get back to normal life, rather than wait for this mythical beast to appear.

  5. Debra Allcock Tyler

    If you look at the evidence over several hundreds of years of revenue sources for our sector, the only sustainable of income into charities has been grants and gifts. They are relatively recession proof (indiviual and trust giving is largely unaffected by the general economic climate) and the giving is for purpose. It is a popular myth that business models make charities more sustainable – in fact there is not a single charity who survives purely on trading income.

    Further, many people in need of charity services are there precisely because the private and public sector model has failed them in some way. There is nothing wrong with adopting a different model to serve vulnerable people and causes. In fact, history shows us that the traditional funding model for the sector is highly reliable.

  6. trevor o'farrell

    Much agreement to your point Debra. I have even heard it rumopured that some charities have existed before the neo-con free marlet globalised agenda started strangling ordinary people some 35 years ago. Only a rumour though.

  7. Nick Aldridge

    “Operating like businesses” can mean (amongst other things)
    a) Having a focus on financial sustainability and value for money
    b) Restricting all services to customers who can afford to pay for them

    Charities might well serve their aims through a focus on (a), but not usually through (b).

    We shouldn’t forget that many businesses fail too. In fact the OECD reckons nearly half of businesses fail within 4 years. (FSB and University of Westminster 2008, New Businesses in the UK). So adopting business practices may not be a guarantee of long-term survival.


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