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.