I was catching up with my email over my toast and coffee recently and noticed an advert on the Third Sector jobs page for a head of volunteering. I’m always interested to see how these roles are advertised and the salaries that are offered (that’s perhaps the topic for another blog post), and this one seemed to emphasise similar requirements to many others.
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Third Sector recently published an analysis of “The rise and rise of the unpaid charity intern”. It explores the issues involved and gives voice to those, such as Intern Aware, who feel that unpaid internships should be banned – a call echoed by the union Unite.
I’m aware of a growing number of news articles, blog posts and even lawsuits that oppose unpaid internships, both here in the UK and overseas. What worries me is the potential for this to snowball into an anti-volunteering movement because the philosophical underpinning of many of the arguments seems to be that any work that is truly needed should be paid.
As long as I’ve worked in volunteering, two of the most popular times to recruit volunteers have been the start of the new calendar year and the start of the new academic year.
In January this is often motivated by people’s post-Christmas guilt, while September is a time for people to try new things as a result of change in their lives: students who are now away at university, parents who no longer have school runs to do, young people entering a new course of study etc…
Just after Volunteers’ Week, Third Sector ran a story highlighting findings from recent research by Join In, including one that said just 2 per cent of people have done more volunteering as a result of London 2012. Yet the same research showed that 31 per cent of people said the Games Makers had positively changed the way they viewed volunteering.
…So sang Roger Daltrey, and while he wasn’t thinking of volunteering, he may as well have been. For while volunteering often seems simple (especially to those with little understanding of the topic), further examination reveals multiple layers of complexity. This is perhaps nowhere more clear than in the thorny issue of job substitution.
As some of you know my last ‘proper’ job was as a director at Volunteering England where the last big project I was involved in was leading the secretariat for the Volunteer Rights Inquiry. This 18-month project was the first attempt anywhere in the world to try to analyse the issues behind often high profile instances of volunteers and organisations falling out, such as those that took place at York Citizens Advice Bureau (and the subsequent fallout from that situation) a few years ago.
It was recently reported that the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Locog customer database has been handed over to Sport England. This means that, almost six months after the games finished and for the first time in the modern Olympic history, the complete list of Games Makers and people who expressed an interest in volunteering – among many others, 5.3 million in total – will be used to continue communication with people who choose to remain opted in to email newsletters and the like.
Regular readers of my blog will know that a consistent theme is my frustration that in the current climate some organisations – mainly at the larger charity end of the sector – seem to be responding to the challenges of the current environment by seeking to fundraise their way out of trouble. This approach seems to originate from leaders in these organisations thinking money is the only viable resource their organisation can deploy in the pursuit of their mission. This in turn helps explain the perception some seem to have that paying people to work for them is the only way to secure competent help.
Last month saw the launch of Give and Gain Day, which will be held on 17 May. Launched in 2008 and organised by Business in the Community, Give and Gain Day provides a one day focus on employee volunteering in all its forms, from traditional team challenges to activities that enable people to use their professional skills. Last year saw 60,000 volunteers take part in the day and the hope is for that number to increase in 2013.
Nobody can doubt that in these austere times the demands on some charities have grown – witness the growth of the food bank movement, which is increasingly active across the country, including parts of middle England just like the town where I live, where many would deny that anyone in their predominantly middle class communities would need the support of a charity like a food bank. Yet there they are, supporting those who need it most at their time of need.