The term giving has become more synonymous with giving nothing but money

Wow, another year gone!

In my first blog of the year for Third Sector I concluded with the sentence: “Here’s to a year in which we start to change people’s views of volunteering”. In this final blog of 2012 I want to reflect on whether things have changed and to review some of the predictions I made in my own blog at the start of the year.

My first prediction for the year was that all the effort by tens of thousands of volunteers will go largely unrecognised during the Games and quickly forgotten afterwards.

I am more pleased than you can know that I was totally wrong on the first half of this. We saw an unprecedented amount of media focus on the Games Maker volunteers and I am convinced this has helped many in the UK to see the hidden yet essential contribution volunteers make to our society, perhaps for the first time.

However, I worry that I may have been more accurate with the second half of my prediction. For after all the post-Games hoopla and back slapping, volunteering has dropped off the radar. Whether that’s a reflection of reality or a symptom of outdated approaches to measuring volunteering remains to be seen.

At the end of 2011 I hoped that the continuing tough times would lead many leaders, organisations and others to open their eyes to the potential of volunteer support. Yet I also worried that many organisations would carry on as before, doing what they’ve always done and trying to fundraise their way out of trouble rather than looking at other resources available to them.

Sadly, I think my worries have been realised more than my hopes. 2012 has been a year in which the term giving has become more and more synonymous with giving money and money alone. It is almost as if there are not other resources available to charities other than cold hard cash.

I recently saw one charity interviewed on the TV that said that it was having to cut back on its mission because it didn’t have enough money to pay to deliver all it does. If charities are thinking that way rather than considering creatively all the resources available to them then they become no different to the private business, a sector so many charity leaders are all to ready to criticise.

Finally, I suggested 2012 would be a key year for volunteer managers to confidently take centre stage, to be proud of what they do.

I believe I was right on this. While many sector leaders may still be treating volunteering as the Cinderella resource compared to cold hard cash, volunteer managers themselves are networking more, challenging more, and striving to break out of the bureaucracy that has come to dominate so much of what they do. This in turn is unleashing talent and creativity into the sector that could play a key role in helping organisations not only survive but thrive despite the prevailing ill winds of the economy.

So have people’s (both in the public and the sector) views of volunteering changed in 2012? The answer is yes…and no. Clearly there is more work to be done. Looks like 2013 is going to be a busy year for us all in the volunteering movement.

5 Responses to “The term giving has become more synonymous with giving nothing but money”

  1. John Clarke

    This blog echoes precisely what I was discussing with colleagues just a few days ago, and also in a public debate last week.

    The power and value of volunteering is immense, yet always plays second (or maybe third or even fourth) fiddle to cash donations. This problem is so deeply ingrained in the sector that when I recently introduced myself as a volunteer manager at a conference I was met with derisory snorts of, “volunteers can’t be relied upon”.

    Charities are more than willing to sink massive financial resources into acquiring, securing and retaining cash donors, yet often spend little – if anything – supporting donations of time. I am left flabbergasted by the number of organisations that have an ideological stance that they will not pay for anything related to volunteering simply because, “it’s free”.

    Were any charity executive to stand up in this current age and proclaim that fundraising should not be invested in, that money should simply be harvested as it is offered, they would be laughed out of the room.

    It’s a shame there aren’t more of us laughing at the executives saying this about volunteering.

  2. Chris Hornet

    I echo completely Rob and John Clarke’s views on the over-reliance placed on fundraising.

    I hate to sound like a Scrooge at this time of year but looking back on the year my two concerns are:
    Firstly, notwithstanding the merits of merger with NCVO what does it say about volunteering in this country that we cannot sustain a body that specifically supports and champions volunteering such as Volunteering England?

    Secondly, there is a groundswell locally in developing volunteer management but where is the leadership nationally? Who is challenging organisations and CEOs on their support for volunteer managment? Who is challenging commisioners and statutory authorites on ensuring volunteer-delivered services are properly resourced and managed? Who is challenging government? Who is challenging sector bodies?

    Bah Humbug!

  3. Laura Hamilton

    It is disappointing that in the current climate of shrinking resources, charities aren’t adapting their approach to volunteering. It seems that whether we’re in boom time, or bust time, volunteering still sits low down the pecking order in terms of charities investment priorities.

    The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network are hosting a live Q&A tomorrow (Wed 5th Dec) on “How can charities encourage people to continue giving”. I’d really encourage people to post up questions or comments that encourage the debate to focus on more than just cash giving. Join the discussion from 1-3pm here:

  4. Mark Atkinson

    My own experience which may or may not resonate with others is that whilst many charities love the idea of having more volunteers, they simply don’t have the necessary infrastructure to recruit, train or retain them. For those with a weak volunteer infrastructure and competing budgetary needs, they invariably allocate the cash to things which will make an impact in year. I think this is because they dont have the management information systems to demonstrate the £business case for volunteering and because the annual report and accounts dont require them to show the value volunteering brings to the organisation.

    Mark Atkinson

  5. Paul Duxbury

    As someone who often describes themselves as a Social Media Enthusiast I was fascinated to read what lay behind the headline when I saw Alex’s post appear on LinkedIn.

    I tend to find the words “guru” and “expert” a tad offputting to say the least. I think Alex is absolutely right in his conclusion that if you want to use social media then you should seek out those who you see being successful rather than those who tell you they can show you how to be successful.

    In my roles within Learning and Development I spend a lot of time talking to potential training suppliers. One of the things I have been struck by with many social media gurus/experts is that they are very focused on their solution/training and not on understanding your unique needs.

    Learning the processes of using specific social media sites is quite easy. The real challenge is making the sites work for you in a way that connects with your values as an organisation and enables you to connect with your existing and potential supporters/donors/partners.

    Alex gives some good suggestions about how to start using some of the sites. If you are going to engage a social media trainer then make sure that they spend time understanding your needs, what you want to get out of social media, what experience you have and what your measures of success will be. That’s what in the training world we would call the start of a Training Needs Analysis.


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