We need not more volunteers, but the right volunteers

On reading a recent edition of the Volunteering England members’ newsletter I noticed a mention that its staff and trustees have been encouraged to support the new Give More campaign. This campaign had clearly passed me by so I did a little web surfing and found that it is an initiative funded by the “Pears Foundation with support from individual ambassadors, companies, charities and the public sector.”

The website marketing spiel sounds good:

“We rarely talk about giving, but if we don’t shout about the good work going on up and down the country, many charities and community groups may cease to exist. We can’t let that happen.”

I couldn’t agree more. It then goes on to say:

“Public services and voluntary organisations are struggling to cope with increased demand while facing funding pressures of their own. Our natural response is to look to the public sector, but it is unable to respond to all the issues. So who can? The answer is ‘all of us’. Together, we can all make a huge difference through a public commitment to give more money, time or energy this year.”

At face value I totally agree. But is the issue really about needing more? Why is more the answer? In financial terms, that is easy to understand. Whether organisation or individual, we always want more money. But what about volunteering?

Any competent volunteer manager will tell you that when it comes to volunteer recruitment what we need is not more volunteers but more of the right volunteers. We need people with the competencies to do the work that needs doing in pursuit of our organisation’s mission and vision, not just anyone who puts up their hand to help (although we should at least be considering how those others could help, now or in future).

The Give More campaign risks sending out a message that all we need are bodies. This implicitly colludes with an all-too-prevalent view of volunteers as incompetent but well-meaning amateurs a view that that one fellow Third Sector contributor, Wally Harbert,  recently did a great job of challenging.

Let’s also consider the potential impact of the Give More message to the currently busy person who already volunteers and, according to volunteering research, gives on average at least four a hours a week – the so-called civic core. To them, Give More risks saying “come on, work harder, what you give isn’t good enough”. Is that really what we want them to hear?

So while Give More is surely well-intentioned, I think it has to be filed alongside other volunteering campaigns du jour like the Jubilee Hour Pledge (which asks people to pledge to give but doesn’t actually seem to care if they do indeed go on to give) that could really benefit from the involvement of volunteer managers. After all, it is volunteer managers who every day are actually getting people to give their most precious commodity (time), are actually getting more of them to do so and are actually getting them to keep giving too.

One day the people behind these campaigns will realise that volunteer managers are the experts here and they will involve them to make sure these campaigns make a difference rather than shining for a couple of months like a day-glo white elephant and then getting consigned to the bin marked ‘nice idea’.

In my view, that day can’t come too soon.

6 Responses to “We need not more volunteers, but the right volunteers”

  1. becky coleman

    Interesting article. Small charities are also benefiting from the advances in technology. easyfundraising.org.uk is helping thousands of causes (large and small) to raise funds. We are on target to give away £1 million to good causes this year.

  2. Daniel Coleman

    I could not agree more, quality over quantity every time, this will also give the volunteer the quality they require and deserve.

    I believe that rather than simply asking for volunteers, a organisation should first work out what they want done, back it up with a job description and then advertise for that volunteer for example volunteer community fundraiser, people then know what they are getting themselves into and the organisation with the use of a good application form know they are getting the right people with the right skills.

  3. Andy Thornton

    Sure – but the Give More campaign is an awareness raising not a recruitment campaign – it doesn’t set out to do too much but help people to recognise that there’s a recession on, and when you come to consider how much you give out, like in terms of your direct debits or if you can’t afford that, the time you allocate to helping others, remember how things are panning out for the less well off. It’s an initiative funded by a private philanthropist and I think the last thing he’d want is to undermine skilled voluntary professionals who he supports all over the place.

  4. Chris Hornet

    ‘One day the people behind these campaigns will realise…’ I admire your optimism! I’ve been waiting nearly 20 years and the ‘answer’ always seems to be creating something new rather than recognising and building on what actually works. I guess if you have the power/resources to set something up (and I don’t doubt that it is always well-intentioned) then you also have an ego that needs to be sated, hence the desire to create rather than simply invest.

    The problem with these campaigns is the very blunt nature of the ask that fails to recognise the nuances between giving time and money. Giving money is dead easy, unless the source is dodgy you will never be turned away. The giving of time though is much more complex and needs to start with the opportunity. Unfortunately these campaigns risk setting people for disappointment, when they realise they can;t always give time in the way they want.

  5. Charlotte Parker

    I agree entirely that organisations need to look at the type of volunteer they require rather than the amount of volunteers they have. A volunteer army would be great – but only if those volunteers have the right skills and personality for what the organisation needs.

    The charity that I work for (The Air Ambulance Service) has recently changed the volunteer pages on the website so that there is a clear definition of each volunteer catergory. We also have a ‘What do you expect from me?’ section.

    If people are to give up their precious time for free, then it is important that they do so for an organisation and role that is right for them, and in turn if the organisation is to take the time to register and train the volunteer, it is important that the volunteer is right for the Charity.

    However, I do agree with Andy that the Give More campaign seems to be more of an awareness raising campaign than a recruitment campaign. And anything that raises the awareness of the positive impact that volunteering can have on organisations, society, and individuals, has to be better than nothing.

  6. Ivor Sutton

    Yes, but the third sector also needs to create employment opportunities for those ‘right volunteers!’

    If we are serious about stimulating growth in our economy, long-term volunteering, though casually acceptable to Charity organisations, does not create a tax-payer.

    The third sector needs to strengthen and be more collective in how it improves ‘business.’ As part of that a fundamental collaboration it needs to have, the third sector must do more to engage ‘Charity director’s/Owners with potential employee’s who have asset-worthy contributions to bring to their organisations. In my view, I do not believe that HR departments, who stack CV’s high and look for certain word usage, can ever replace a ‘business owner’ who wants to hear ones passion, listen to the transferable skills one has and give such individuals an opportunity to build their organisations, while keeping the values and ethics sound.

    The Third sector should be more dominant in sector Leadership, but I feel it’s still hiding… seemingly believing that Change and Progress mean the same thing. But, they don’t.


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