Volunteers’ Week is upon us again, starting on Monday 1 June. The annual celebration of volunteering and the contribution of volunteers to our society seems to roll around faster and faster every year.
Events are planned across the country to recognise, reward and recruit volunteers. Many of these will feature chief executives and senior managers giving speeches and handing out certificates to volunteers. But how do you tell if what we read and hear from sector leaders is genuine positivity about volunteers and volunteering or just warm platitudes trotted out because it is Volunteers’ Week?
The voluntary and community sector is known for its commitment to fairness and social justice. When it comes to volunteering, the sector has long been concerned about anything that might undermine the accepted core principles of volunteerism – time given, of someone’s own free will and without concern for financial gain, in order to make the world a better place.
Last month saw the publication of the final report of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing. The report is presented in an engaging way and runs to a mere thirteen pages – so there’s no excuse not to read it. In fact, it is essential reading for anyone who works in the voluntary sector or works with volunteers.
A couple of weeks ago, Volunteering Australia announced its decision to review its definition of volunteering. The chief executive of Volunteering Tasmania, Adrienne Picone, wrote a helpful blog outlining the issues involved – it is well worth a read.
I wonder if the time is right for us to go through a similar exercise here in the UK, and revisit what exactly we mean by the word volunteering?
It may be me, but I get the distinct feeling that looking backwards seems to be more and more unacceptable. In our world, which moves at ever-increasing speed, and where the pace of change becomes more and more relentless, time to look back, reflect and learn seems to become increasingly rare. Instead we move from initiative to initiative, jumping on trends and bandwagons in an ongoing quest for progress, without really thinking about how we got here.
For five weeks before Christmas I had to change my work routine. I normally work from home, but I’d sold my house and the new place wasn’t ready until the 19 December. So, while living with my future in-laws, I’d rented an office in the volunteer-run local museum in Grantham.
November sees Trustees’ Week roll around again. This is the fifth year the week has been observed, and the organisers have an enviable list of big-name supporters including NCVO, the Charity Commission (England & Wales), OSCR and infrastructure bodies across the UK.
According to the Trustees’ Week website, there are around one million trustee positions in England & Wales alone, with some estimates that half of all charities have at least one trustee vacancy. Two thirds of trustees are at least 50 years old with a mere 0.5 per cent of trustees are aged 18-24 (despite the fact that this age group makes up 12 per cent of the population).
Two recent articles in Third Sector have highlighted the challenge facing volunteer-involving organisations in the coming months and years.
One of these – a piece of research which says today’s volunteers will demand more challenging tasks in their retirement – shows that the new breed of baby boomer volunteers are unlikely to engage in the way their parents did. From wanting shorter-term commitments (at least initially) to an increasing aversion to just doing the make-work, this huge pool of potential volunteers will not thrill to tired old views about – and strategies for engaging – volunteers.