This month I want to continue the theme and ask: what exactly do we want the next Westminster government to do for volunteering?
As I pointed out last month, simply calling for moves to increase the number of people giving time carries significant risks. There is a danger that many more people respond to these calls; yet little time, investment or thought goes into how volunteer involving organisations (VIOs) will actually have the capacity to involve these additional people in meaningful ways. This gets even more dangerous if we end up with large-scale promotion of developments like microvolunteering, when they are still small-scale ways for people to actually give.
So what do we want?
It’s hard to say. The very diversity of volunteering is its great strength but it also makes it hard to pin down a handful of clear asks. Indeed, some of what we see and hear around us at the moment could also be seen to be quite contradictory.
On the one hand we seem quite comfortable with general calls for more volunteers but then some voices are quite clear that actually this is only true in some cases. are quite vocal that certain ways of giving time – for example unpaid internships which meet many of the definitions of volunteering – are bad and should be banned. Others want to restrict volunteering to only those with pure, altruistic motives (if indeed such people exist).
Some people are very happy to promote the potential and value of volunteering in transforming public services or meeting social needs. But this is sometimes at odds with calls (occasionally by the same individuals or organisations) that volunteers shouldn’t undercut paid jobs. Still volunteers cry foul at giving time to help deliver public services because they feel that if they don’t volunteer they will lose those services.
Then we have conflicting views on priorities from different ‘establishment’stakeholders:
• Volunteer Centres want more funding
• Volunteer Managers want more recognition
• Volunteers want better protection from having their contributions abused by staff, trustees, senior managers etc.
• VIOs don’t seem to have any clear demands around volunteering, shouting instead for more money as if that’s the only way they’ll solve society’s problems
The reality is that it may be impossible to pin down some commonly agreed calls from across the volunteering movement (which, don’t forget, includes all sectors not just civil society). NCVO are trying to get some coherence but that’s only going to be for their members.
Perhaps what we need is some debate amongst a wider group – and what better place to try to do this than amongst the readers of Third Sector?
So, my question to you is, “What do you think the top three asks for volunteering should be of the next Westminster government?”
Please comment below and let’s see what consensus (if any) can be achieved.