In late July the government released the latest set of Community Life Survey data which included up-to-date figures on levels volunteering. The release was very low-key, in contrast with the previous release 18 months ago when a much-heralded post-Olympic rise in volunteering levels was championed as proof that the Big Society was working.
Not only was the most recent release much more muted; but the data is presented in a much less accessible format of Excel spreadsheets compared to the nice, easy to understand graphs of 2013.
During Volunteers’ Week last month an article appeared with the headline, Volunteers worth £500m to the NHS. To quote one of the opening lines:
“The country’s healthcare system is being supported by 1.9 million volunteers, worth almost £500m to the NHS, according to a new study.“
This prompted some discussion on the UKVPMs discussion group for volunteer managers. On one side of the debate were those who felt this headline helped to showcase the importance of volunteering to our society. On the other side were those who felt such headlines do more harm than good.
A couple of weeks ago it was reported that the Charity Retail Association were searching for the UK’s longest-serving charity shop volunteer ahead of a ceremony to be held in Volunteers’ Week this month.
Leaders and managers of volunteers know all too well that we live in a society where volunteering is becoming increasingly focused on short-term, time-limited commitments. People do not thrill (at least initially) to signing away years of their lives to a volunteer-involving organisation.
You may have noticed a news story last month saying that the Prime Minister has announced the first recipients of the Points of Light awards. Never heard of them? Neither had I.
The awards are a new way for the government to recognise the contribution volunteers make to UK society. They add to the existing Big Society Awards, The Queens Award for Voluntary Service and the honours system, which includes the specific British Empire Medal for people who contribute to their communities.
It was the fundraising phenomenon that has caught the charity world by storm, the #nomakeupselfie. Check out Ian Griggs’ article about the phenomenon and an excellent Guardian Voluntary Sector Network piece on why it worked.
Both of these informative articles recognise that #nomakeupselfie was not born in the depths of a charity fundraising or marketing & communications team. Cancer Research UK may have made £8m, but they did so because of the efforts of volunteers who took it upon themselves to make this phenomenon what it is.
I was encouraged to read in Third Sector recently that the Small Charities Coalition (SCC) has integrated its trustee recruitment service with Do-It. This means people searching for volunteering opportunities will have instant access to the SCC service via the Do-It interface.
This is a really welcome development for a number of reasons.
Last month I cautioned that we need to be careful what we wish for as we approach general election season and the manifesto calls increase in frequency and volume.
This month I want to continue the theme and ask: what exactly do we want the next Westminster government to do for volunteering?
As we enter 2014, the pace is gathering for next year’s UK general election. The NCVO has already been consulting its members as it seeks to develop some form of sector manifesto aimed at the main parties, and we’re sure to see many others canvassing opinion and positioning the sector in the heart of the political world as polling day approaches.
The Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) has recently produced an excellent and readable report into micro-volunteering. In the section on risks to organisations, beneficiaries and volunteers, it observes that micro-volunteering “was felt to be riskier because organisations have less control over participants” and “there may be risks to the organisation surrounding reputation and image associated with a reduction in direct control over volunteers”.
A few years ago the policy team at Volunteering England developed the slogan ‘Volunteering is freely given, but not cost free’. It was used repeatedly to make the point to government and funders that successful and effective engagement of volunteers comes with a cost attached, albeit a cost that brings about a good return on investment.