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.
OK, I’m potentially going to be controversial this month.
I’ve just read a new paper from the Third Sector Research Centre paper No Longer A Voluntary Sector. The paper is part of their Future Dialogues series and explores the changing landscape of the sector workforce and asks whether increased reliance on volunteers – as Big Society policy suggests should happen – is desirable or viable.
On reading a recent edition of the Volunteering England members’ newsletter I noticed a mention that its staff and trustees have been encouraged to support the new Give More campaign. This campaign had clearly passed me by so I did a little web surfing and found that it is an initiative funded by the “Pears Foundation with support from individual ambassadors, companies, charities and the public sector.”
The media has been awash with stories about volunteering since the Olympics. I think this is brilliant. At last, thanks to the highly visible purple and pink Olympic Games Makers and Team London volunteers, the mainstream public consciousness has cottoned on to the armies of invisible volunteers that keep this country ticking. The Daily Telegraph has even started its own awards for volunteers.
So what now?
Volunteer recognition. It is a tricky thing to get right.
As I wrote last month, well intentioned long service awards for volunteering increasingly risk alienating those who can only give time in shorter bursts.
Woe betide anyone who actually listens to volunteers when they say they don’t want any recognition for what they do. Fail to at least thank them and watch them leave in droves.
This weekend sees the start of the 28th Volunteers’ Week taking place across the UK. Organised by members of the UK Volunteering Forum, the week provides a focal point for many organisations to recognise and celebrate the work of the millions of volunteers who, quite literally, keep this country going.
This weekend is also the focal point of celebrations of the Queen’s diamond jubilee. Whether royalist or republican, the Queen provides an example of 60 years of dedication to service. Of course, Her Majesty is not a volunteer (far from it), but she is often used as an example of dedicated service to others, something some would argue is lacking in our modern world – an approach to the role of monarch that those who come after her would be unable to replace.
No don’t worry, your volunteering blogger hasn’t gone all talent show crazy. In fact my views on talent shows are well summed up by a comment heard recently when actress Cate Blanchett asked if we had an equivalent to the crime show Australia’s Most Wanted. The reply came, “Yes, it’s called Britain’s Got Talent”.
What I want to talk about this month is volunteering opportunities.
Every now and again I hear it or read it. It comes up in conversations and articles, sometimes from those who should know much better. I’ll even admit to having done it myself in the past.
I’m referring to people saying they ‘use’ volunteers. I mentioned this issue in passing last month but, as it is something I feel strongly about, I wanted to make it the focus of this month’s blog.
On 13 February The Guardian’s Voluntary Sector Network published an article entitled “Celebrity supporters are more than just volunteers – they’re donors”.
The article, written by an unnamed ‘charity celebrity consultant’, argues that “to suggest a celebrity is simply a volunteer is to misunderstand celebrity support…this undervalues their worth”. The authors continues: “If a solicitor offers to spend a weekend helping a charity clear a canal, then I’d consider them to be a volunteer. However, if that same solicitor gave the same amount of time to do legal work on behalf of the charity, then they have donated not just their time but their specialist expertise to provide a service that has a clear commercial value. Therefore I’d argue that in this example our solicitor is a donor in-kind”.
Last month saw the publication of the findings from the latest State of the Sector survey. Conducted by Third Sector and nfpSynergy, the findings set out the views of more than 700 people, 58 per cent of whom were senior managers and 7 per cent trustees.
The findings are in many ways unsurprising.