AVM Conference 2014 – tickets on sale now


This year’s conference will take place at Hamilton House in London

Speak Up – Your voice together with AVM advancing our profession

We’re excited.  Our 2014 conference is ready to roll and we hope you will find what we’ve lined up for the day interesting, informative and very current.

SPEAK UP is the title of the conference and it will be held in London on 23rd October 2014.

So why not join volunteer managers from across the UK at this one day event and put your voice together with AVM’s to advance volunteer management as our profession?

Speakers include:

  • Dr Justin Davis-Smith (Executive Director of Volunteering and Development, NCVO) asking is formal volunteering finished
  • Joe Saxton (Driver of Ideas, nfpSynergy) talking about nfpSynergy’s latest research amongst managers of volunteers, and
  • Jamie Ward-Smith (Founder & CEO, ivo UK) showing what the new Do-It can do for us as volunteer managers

To see the full conference programme and to book your place (discount for AVM members of course).

Don’t miss out and see you there.

New survey for volunteer managers from JIVE (Justice Involving Volunteers in Europe)

Introduction to project and European research on volunteering within the Criminal Justice System (CJS)

I am leading an exciting new project in Clinks, the membership organisation for voluntary sector organisations working with offenders and their families, called Justice Involving Volunteers in Europe.

We are currently undertaking a piece of Europe-wide research on the role and value of volunteers within the sector because little has ever been commissioned, so I would like to hear your views and experiences by completing our online survey.

The project is exploring the role and value of volunteers across the European Criminal Justice System (CJS), with a particular focus on (ex) offenders, their families and victims of crime.

This research will come together in a final report to be formally launched in Germany next spring 2015.  We will disseminate the findings to policy makers and agencies across the EU in the hope to put volunteering within the sector on government agendas, and really promote its value to the sector and wider society.

How can you have your say and feed into this research?

As volunteer managers I don’t need to win you over or persuade you of the importance and the benefits of volunteering because you already know! However, what I would like is to hear your opinion and experiences of recruiting, training and managing volunteers within your organisation; it is this information which is vital to the project and will help shape in part its direction and structure, so please spare me 20 minutes of your time to complete the survey and help us inform volunteering for the future.

Further information and resources for you

Clinks will be running its ‘Working with offenders’ training course on 2nd and 3rd October 2014 – you can find out more here and submit an application.

Clinks has also published a range of free guides targeted at those who involve volunteers, or provide mentoring and befriending services to (ex) offenders, these guides are designed to support any organisation whether they are already established or just setting up. Hard copies are available on request.

The project is funded by the European Commission. Please visit our webpage for further information including newsletters and details of our other partners.

It would be great to hear some of your thoughts and views – you can email me at Robert.Price@clinks.org

Written by Robert Price – Events Co-ordinator – Clinks

Volunteer management qualifications in Wales

This post comes from Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA).

Managing, supervising and inspiring volunteers is a key part of the work of a third sector manager; volunteers do not have to follow you as a leader, instead they choose to, so inspiring and keeping them on bard is a challenging job.

WCVA has been working with Learning to Inspire to develop a suite of qualifications in volunteer management.

Learning to Inspire will be offering two programmes of learning which can help you gain a professional qualification and recognition of your volunteer management skills, giving you a choice of studying at level 3, 5 or 7.


  • Day 1 Tuesday 21.10.14
  • Day 2 Tuesday 18.11.14
  • Day 3 Tuesday 13.01.15
  • Day 4 Tuesday 10.2.15


  • Day 1 Tuesday 30.09.14
  • Day 2 Tuesday 28.10.14
  • Day 3 Tuesday 25.11.14
  • Day 4 Tuesday 20.01.15

The Art of Managing and Supervising volunteers – ILM Level 3

On this programme you will learn the tools to transform your skills as a manager or supervisor of volunteers. This will enable you to:

  • Radiate integrity and congruence by understanding your own motivations and ‘map’ of the world
  • Inspire others with your own clear vision
  • Have a greater influence through understanding the deepest needs of those around you
  • Create a culture of individual worth by learning how to communicate with respect and appreciation
  • Embrace personal transformation and learn how to manage your own state when the going gets tough

The programme is accredited through the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and offers the opportunity for learners to receive Certification as an ILM Development Award. In addition, if learners complete relevant tasks and assignments they can receive a Level 3 Qualification in The Management of Volunteers.


From £760 (up to 50% funding available for eligible third sector organisations in Wales).

To book places or for further information about the programme and funding available, please call Jo or Sandra on 0845 050 7676 or email info@learningtoinspire.co.uk
The art of leading volunteering in the organisation – Level 5 & 7

Learning to Inspire will also be developing programmes specifically for those involved in the management of volunteers in Wales, at Level 5 and at Post Graduate Level 7.

These programmes will be available in late spring/early summer 2014.

For more information please email info@learningtoinspire.co.uk or call 0845 050 7676

Increasing the value and impact of volunteer management

Please find attached the presentation and material from the workshop presented at NCVO’s Evolve event on 16 June.

  • Kristen Stephenson, Volunteer Management and Good Practice Manager, NCVO
  • Debbie Usiskin, Vice Chair, Association of Volunteer Managers
  • Rachael Bayley, Director, Association of Volunteer Managers and Head of Volunteering Development, Save the Children


Occupy volunteer management

Before going further with the discussion of professionalisation and volunteer management, it’s useful to recap on where we might think volunteer management fits on the scale of job, occupation and profession.

Is volunteer management my job, my occupation or my profession?

What stage are you at?

Job-Occupation-Profession (1)

It’s clear we’ll all have different answers to this question. So it’s a great place to start this discussion because how we answer it, leaves us with a useful grounding when we come to look at the issue of professionalisation of volunteer management.

If a job is an activity with an economic role usually directed toward making a living, what is an occupation? And how is that different from a profession?

What is an occupation?

Occupation – a cluster of job-related activities constituting a single economic role that is usually directed toward making a living. (The Social Organisation of Work, p.447, Randy Hodson, Teresa A. Sullivan (2007)

This is a pretty broad definition. It also ties volunteer management – the occupation – to the idea of making a living. This is problematic if we’re looking for a definition that can include those in volunteer management working on a voluntary basis. We’ll come back to this issue in more detail in a future post.

Going by this definition, a contender for the moment that volunteer management became an occupation might be when it began to be more common to see full-time volunteer management roles – or at least roles where the central focus of a part-time role was on volunteer management.

More often in the academic literature on professionalisation, the word “occupation” is defined in opposition to “profession”. For example:

“Persons engaged in an occupation are not paid for their knowledge, but only for what they produce.”

Others emphasise that what distinguishes an occupation from a job is the scope for career development. As career development opportunities within the volunteer management field have grown, so it has developed as an occupation.

While career development within volunteer management is possible, it remains a field where the turnover of people involved remains relatively high.

By asking whether volunteer management is an occupation, we can start to see more clearly whether the foundation exists to develop a profession. Much of the criteria we might want to use to assess how far down the route of professionalisation volunteer management is, can also be used to assess how mature it is as an occupation.

Table six prof occ categories

This graphic is supposed to give an illustration of the spectrum covered by the range from job, occupation and profession, in order to help frame the discussion on professionalisation of volunteer management.

Employers fail to recognise their employees’ occupation

In the early stages, where a job may develop into an occupation, employers who create and support those jobs are incredibly influential in the process. Arguably, as occupations professionalise, the balance of influence shifts between the individual professionals and the organisations who employ them.

As a result, key stakeholders in the early development of volunteer management are the employers of volunteer managers. Changing perceptions of employers of volunteer managers may be one of the most single influential factors in the development of volunteer management as an occupation.

Yet in many cases looking at job descriptions advertised, it’s common for employers still to see volunteer management as a function, rather than as a rounded occupation. If an occupation is a “cluster of job-related activities”, employers can tend to see volunteer management as just one specific activity and miss the bigger picture.

Lack of funding for volunteer management or lack of understanding of the return on investment, may make employers reluctant to go beyond seeing volunteer management as a function and develop full-time volunteer management roles which are fully integrated in their organisation.

This situation may be due to a number of factors such as a lack of research, evidence and public awareness of the value of volunteer management. This can lead to a kind of chicken and egg scenario in the step towards becoming an occupation, where employers don’t design roles that reflect volunteer management as an occupation, which in turn reinforces employers’ perception that volunteer management is not an occupation.

The result is that volunteer management may often be something people are employed to do as part of a wider job description.

In some organisations, volunteer management may not even be seen as a primary part of the work of many of those who manage volunteers, merely as a secondary consequence of other aspects of the role. For example, fundraisers who have manage volunteer fundraisers, operational staff recruited to run services that support their service user through the engagement of volunteers, etc.

There could be a number of reasons for employers to act in this way (with all the consequences it has for the development of volunteer management as an occupation):

  • lack of recognised pathways into volunteer management
  • lack of understanding of how to evaluate volunteer management skills and experience
  • lack of understanding of the scope of volunteer management, etc.

This brings us back to these criteria for professionalisation. They can give us a sense not just of the professionalisation of volunteer management, but also how developed it is as an occupation.

A key mile stone for the development of volunteer management as an occupation has to be the introduction of the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for the Management of Volunteers (PDF) in 2003 and their revision in 2008.

In 2003, a key challenge was the link between standards for individuals (NOS), with the development of standards for organisations (Investing in Volunteers). In 2008, the revision of the NOS included the challenge of linking these standards with accredited qualifications and learning in volunteer management.

For the first time, those in volunteer management were involved in agreeing a collective response to the questions of identifying the scope, performance standards, experience, personal qualities, knowledge and skills that form part of the emerging occupation in volunteer management.

The NOS framed the work of the occupation of volunteer management as covering:

  • A. Develop and evaluate strategies and policies that support volunteering
  • B. Promote volunteering
  • C. Recruit place and induct volunteers
  • D. Manage and develop volunteers
  • E. Manage yourself, your relationships and your responsibilities
  • F. Provide management support for volunteering programmes

It is also suggested a list of those in an organisation who may have an interest in the standards of this occupation:

  • Chief executive
  • Volunteer coordinator
  • Project manager
  • Volunteering manager
  • Director of resources
  • Information and advice officer
  • Volunteer leader
  • HR personnel
  • Voluntary services manager
  • Trustee

We’ll revisit some of the stumbling blocks that volunteer management has had, and continues to have, in its development as an occupation.

In summary, before we begin the debate on volunteer management and professionalisation, we need to recognise the diverse range of viewpoints we have based on where we feel we are on the scale of job, occupation and profession; where we’ve come from and where we’re interested in going.

Unintended consequences

It was Katherine’s last day at work before retirement. She’d been a Volunteer Manager for nearly sixty years now. Since they pushed the retirement age up to 85 a few years back she’d resigned herself to sticking with the profession for a little longer.

Katherine had seen so much change in the profession since she fell into the role back in 2014 as a fresh faced 25 year old, full of ‘I-can-change-the-world’ optimism and vigour.

“Where did that energy go?”, she wondered to herself.

Her last day at work saw Katherine giving a talk to the local networking group for members of the Association of Volunteer Management Professionals (AVMP). It was an opportunity for her to reflect on all the changes she’d seen and to give people (many new to the field) a sense of the history of the profession. After all, she’d forgotten more about volunteer management than many of them had even known.

Back when Katherine had started, a profession for Volunteer Managers was still in its infancy. The Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM), as they were called back, then had just started consulting members on the development of a code of practice. Wheels that had been slow to turn quickly gathered pace as the discussions intensified and finally, by the end of 2015, the code was in place.

And that was the first problem. The code had been agreed by paid workers who specialised in leading and managing volunteers and volunteer programmes. There had been a fair bit of diversity in that group, some headed up volunteering at a strategic in large organisations whilst others were in the trenches, managing volunteers day-to-day in a range of contexts. That in itself had been an achievement as there had been all sorts of associations and networks for people working in different contexts at that time.

The problem though was that the majority of people who managed volunteers hadn’t been involved. All those volunteers who did volunteer management roles. All those paid staff in organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors but weren’t specialists in volunteerism – the business managers, administrators, nurses, doctors, teachers, fundraisers etc. – they all had no say in the code.

Looking back it was clear that this had been one of the causes of the two tier set up Katherine and others struggled with now. The AVMP which stood up for volunteering specialists and the Association of Managers of Volunteers (AMV) who spoke for everyone else. Sure the two bodies agreed on some things but more often than not they were at loggerheads, the AMV accusing the AVMP of being elitist and exclusionary, the AVMP accusing the AMV of undermining professional standards by not having codes of practice, qualifications etc..

Of course, the codes of practice and qualifications did give the work of AVMP members much needed rigour. Organisations knew that if you employed an AVMP member to run your volunteer programmes you were getting someone who knew their stuff and would do a good job. Lessons had been learnt early on from other fields that just because someone earned a good wage didn’t make them competent. As AVM developed into AVMP between 2020 & 2025 they made sure that their members were highly effective rather than just highly paid.

But all those structures had caused problems too. It had vastly narrowed the entry routes into volunteer management, resulting in a far less diverse field than it had been before. That caused the first criticisms of AVMP being elitist, a legacy that sadly continued all these years later.

With hindsight it had perhaps all been to process focused too, with Volunteer Managers having to jump through endless hoops to prove their worth. That was until a better balance was achieved, with academic and vocational aspects carrying equal weight in the accreditation process. But this still caused problems for those whose years of prior experience suddenly counted for nothing unless they had a piece of paper in their hands. Many of those had simply given up, quit or moved on, often using their experience to take up senior roles in Volunteer Involving Organisations, their disenchantment with what volunteer management had become causing them to sometimes be too hard on their own Volunteer Managers. It had also resulted in a big loss of knowledge and experience that would have been invaluable in the education of new Volunteer Managers.

Of course, those issues worked themselves through over time but it had been a difficult and painful few years for the emerging profession and for the individuals affected.

And then there had been the credibility issue.

All the original codes of practice were clear on what the volunteering was that members of AVMP led and managed. It involved no reward and required no incentive. Nothing of any material value was ever exchanged. Ever. Volunteers only gave time if they freely chose to. In short, volunteering was a neatly defined and fixed reality.

Looking back over sixty years Katherine could see how volunteering had changed and evolved because volunteers themselves had changed. People today lived different lives than people sixty years ago. Looking back it was obvious in a way it hadn’t been at the time that defining ‘valid’ volunteering in terms of what had come before was the wrong call.

In the last sixty years incentives and rewards had become more commonplace and accepted. Volunteering didn’t suffer, it changed.

In the last sixty years (in fact even before then) people got something material out of their volunteering. It had remained the case that volunteers weren’t paid a wage for what they did (that had been a line in the sand that nobody was willing to cross) but schemes such as those that used to be called Timebanking or where volunteers got credits they could exchange in stores had all developed. Volunteering didn’t suffer, it changed.

In the last sixty years people had realised that the absence of a free choice to volunteer wasn’t just there when someone was forcing you to give time in exchange for graduating school or claiming a benefit. Absence of free choice was there – always had been there – when peer pressure was at play, or societal expectations were in place (such as university students having to volunteer if they stood a chance of getting a job on graduation). Volunteering didn’t suffer.

What suffered was the emerging profession of volunteer managers. They drew the boundaries of what was acceptable for their members to manage so tightly that it reduced their credibility to speak out on anything other than ‘pure’ volunteering. They saw volunteering as something that wouldn’t change. When it did they realised they needed to as well. It had been a close run thing for a time with the profession almost dying before it had begun, strangled by its own restrictions. But thankfully things changed.

And so things got off to a rocky start. But the biggest challenge came in the late 20’s.

With hindsight, they should have seen it coming. The same thing had affected fundraising in the 00’s and 10’s. And Volunteering England (as they were back then) had done that work on Volunteer Rights. Yes, the warning signs were there but hadn’t been spotted.

Katherine shuddered as she remembered one of the toughest times of her career.

As the professional of volunteer management had become more established and high profile so the expectations volunteers had of their managers and the organisations they gave time to had grown. More people were giving time, volunteering was more high profile and socially acceptable and those who volunteered demanded the same levels of professionalism from Volunteer Managers that they demanded from doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professions. And when they didn’t get it, they complained.

As the AVMP became more established the complaints increased and increased.

Soon others started to take notice. The media, always on the look out for a negative story, started to run pieces on volunteers who felt let down or poorly by Volunteer Managers and Volunteer Involving Organisations, whether members of the new profession or not (that distinction didn’t matter to the person on the Clapham Omnibus). First it was just consumer watchdog stuff but then the mainstream media picked it up. Newspapers ran negative stories about Volunteer Managers just like they had when the public got frustrated with fundraisers a decade beforehand.

Then the politicians got involved. AVMP staff and board members were called to parliament to explain to MPs why so many volunteers felt poorly treated. AVMP was told to get its house in order. Self-regulation was demanded with the threat of statutory regulation if that didn’t work. Politicians weren’t about to let so many of their constituents feel so frustrated and see nothing done by those they’d put in power.

Whereas fundraising had taken a decade or so to get self-regulation working properly, politicians expected Volunteer Managers to get it sorted in much less time. After all, Volunteer Managers and fundraisers were all in the same sector so they must talk to each other right? Wrong as it turned out. So for a while it had been a close run thing with AVMP frantically trying to play catch up with fundraising colleagues and put in place a scheme of self-regulation before the statutory regulation deadline. They made it, just. It wasn’t perfect and tweaks had to be made of course.

They’d been dark days. The public had turned against Volunteer Managers. Politicians had turned against Volunteer Managers. Many Volunteer Managers turned against AVMP, claiming that all the work to professionalise the field had demonised it instead. That had been another seed that had led to the Association of Managers of Volunteers which still caused tensions to this day.

“Ladies and gentleman, it’s time for our keynote speaker…”

The organiser of the network meeting had started her introduction and it brought Katherine round from her reminiscences. As the introduction finished she got to her feet and walked the few steps to the the podium, ready to share her takes on the lessons of the past.

Katherine’s last thought before she spoke was that she wished she’d know in 2015 what she knew now.

This blog was originally posted here:

Is our destination clear?

In the last few months there has been a growing sense of movement and action by the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM).

Since their last conference in October 2013 AVM has been gathering a head of steam with a new board, new website, regular email newsletters and a more concerted effort to engage with its members. This has resulted in a growing membership and more recently the start of efforts to develop a code of practice for volunteer management. This latter step is significant as it heralds a move by AVM to not just advocate for and support Volunteer Managers but to also establish volunteer management as a recognised profession.

AVM board member Patrick Daniels, writing in a personal capacity, is writing a series of blogs to try and unpick exactly what a profession is. Please do take a look and engage in discussion with Patrick because this debate is key to shaping the future direction of both AVM and the work of Volunteer Managers.

I am wholly supportive of AVM’s efforts to move the debate forward and to try and secure more status and respect for Volunteer Managers but here I want to take a step back and look at two questions that I don’t think get enough attention yet to me are fundamental to the debate.

First, what do we want to gain from Volunteer Management becoming a profession?

All the debate I’ve seen in the last 20 years seems to take it for granted that becoming a profession will achieve something but there doesn’t ever seem to be any serious debate had or consensus reached as to what exactly ‘something’ is.

Do we want more money?

Do we want more credibility? If so, who with? HR? CEOs? Boards? Managers? Staff? Volunteers? The public?

Do we want to be held in higher regard? By whom?

Do we want to be better understood? By whom?

Do we want something else? What? Why?

When we can answer these questions honestly and have some agreement upon them then we will be in a much better place to assess whether the typical steps to becoming a profession that Patrick so clearly lays out will actually achieve the something we want.

Oh, and by the way, when I say “we can answer” and “we can agree” who exactly is we? Members of AVM? The 200,000 Volunteer Managers estimated in the UK? Paid Volunteer Managers? Voluntary Volunteer Managers? A majority? People who manage volunteers but aren’t and wouldn’t consider themselves to be Volunteer Managers?

Second, given the current work by AVM to seek to establish a code of practice for volunteer management as the first step towards becoming a profession (discussions started with members at last autumn’s conference), what exactly is the good – or should that be best? – volunteer management practice that we want to codify?

I’ve asked this question before on discussion groups like UKVPMs and my experience is that people really struggle to answer it. We have things like Investing in Volunteers (IiV) which assess an organisations competence to involve volunteers and we have National Occupation Standards which lay out what basic good practice is (although the NOS are far from ideal, mainly just codifying the process management aspects of Volunteer Managers role) but I don’t believe we have a consensus at all on what makes someone a good volunteer manager.

What do they do?

What approach do they bring?

How do they conduct themselves?

What difference is there between someone who is competent, someone who is good and someone who is outstanding?

If we (and refer back to my earlier point about what exactly ‘we’ means) in the role of Volunteer Managers cannot say what makes us good at our jobs then how can we start to codify that into a set of standards and principles that would apply universally across our diverse field so as to set a robust benchmark for professional standards?

Let me say again, this is not a criticism of AVM. I support and welcome their work. They are great people doing good stuff for Volunteer Managers. What I want to do with this post is help us all think a little harder about why we might be setting off down a particular road and whether the effort we expend in doing so will bring us to the destination we desire.

In a future blog I want to explore some of the potential unintended consequences of Volunteer Management becoming a profession but for now I’d love to hear what you think about what I’ve posted today. Please add your views with a comment below.


This post was originally posted here:



The Case for a Code

A code of practice for professionals in volunteer management


Volunteering has come a long way. The understanding of the valuable role volunteering plays and its contribution to building communities is now part of the political mainstream. It’s become a firm fixture in the rhetoric of public figures from princes to prime ministers and has featured on the policy agenda of successive governments.

The nascent role of volunteer management has been a key driver in the greater recognition and impact of volunteering. However, this role is not well understood and too often public discourse on volunteering makes little reference to volunteer management. The knowledge and scope of what’s required for successful volunteer engagement remains one of our sector’s best kept secrets.

Volunteer management as a profession

Research repeatedly indicates that there are a growing number of people, both paid and unpaid, across public, private and voluntary sectors, helping to cultivate this recent blossoming of volunteering. What we do goes beyond simply having a job, carrying out a function or fulfilling a contract. We are professionals and should be recognised as such.

Evidence points to a growth in those taking a professional approach to volunteer management whether as managers, leaders or involved in its development. The support and interest in the Association of Volunteer Managers since its inception in 2007 is just one indicator of this trend.

Building a new profession

We believe there is a growing appetite to build a new profession in volunteer management.

As professionals in volunteer management we’re faced with complex situations that require our specialist and expert knowledge. This knowledge is gained through reflection on our own practice and learning from others with similar experiences.

If we are to apply that knowledge, we require autonomy – we need to be able to come to our own judgement independent of other professions and disciplines.

However, with professional autonomy comes responsibility and accountability. To support professionals with that responsibility, the profession of volunteer management needs, collectively, to develop its very own set of professional values – a code of practice.

The need for a code of practice

What’s needed is a code that inspires each professional’s ongoing performance and practice to improve and develop.

Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) would like to propose to members that we take forward our profession and agree together a code of practice for professionals in volunteer management.

This code of practice in volunteer management should:

  1. provide a framework that guides the core practice of professionals in volunteer management
  2. encourage active reflection among professionals in volunteer management on the wider implications and impacts of their work
  3. inform the practice of others who work in association with professionals in volunteer management
  4. support constructive communication between professionals in volunteer management and the public on complex and challenging issues in volunteering
  5. raise the standards of practice by ensuring the integrity of members and thereby raise the public’s trust in what we do

Join us

If you’d like to get involved, please join AVM to get updates and take part in workshops and discussion in the coming months.

If you are a member and would like to get involved, please get in touch or find further details on our LinkedIn group.

Help to Work

The Association of Volunteer Managers advises its members to think very seriously before getting involved with the new Community Work Placements (CWP) or the Mandatory Intervention Regime (MIR) as part of Help to Work.

The CWP is a mandatory work placement scheme that unemployed people will be forced to take up and complete (at 30 hours per week for six months) to avoid losing their benefits. Any charities signing up to the scheme should be very clearly aware that this is not volunteering and that volunteer management practices will not necessarily be applicable.

Organisations will have to understand that they will be required to report a claimant’s non-attendance or poor performance, and that this could result in their loss of benefit.

Volunteers support us with their skills, effort and time because they want to and so a level of willing support for the cause can reasonably be assumed, which will clearly not be the case with CWP.

Whatever views we may have of the principles behind this change to the welfare system, it is worth noting that the government do not refer to it as volunteering. It is the media who have used that word in their reports and have made the situation appear worse than it is.

Organisations primarily concerned with the welfare of the most vulnerable people in society must be especially careful as the potential for reputational damage is significant.

AVM Board of Directors



Government announcement: Help to Work: nationwide drive to help the long-term unemployed into work (30th April 2014)

Help work out a new consensus

In 2011, in a report by the Social Security Advisory Committee on Jobseeker’s Allowance (Mandatory Work Activity Scheme) Regulations 2011 (S.I.2011 No.688) – it was set out in black and white:

“Mandatory work activity will be a non-voluntary work placement for customers in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance.”

Right back in 2011, regs on JSA for the introduction on mandatory work activities for claimants were preparing the ground for the non-voluntary options for those on JSA that we see now.

In April 2014 with the continuing rollout of Help to Work, where JSA claimants who’ve been on the Work Programme for two years without finding a job are presented with more restrictive options, the government might then be confused by the voluntary label given by much of the media to mandatory elements of Help to Work such as the Mandatory Intervention Regime or the Community Work Placement.

  • Guardian: “Help to Work scheme will require jobseekers to do voluntary work such as gardening projects or running community cafes”
  • Mirror: “Anyone who refuses the “voluntary work” in the community – for up to six months for 30 hours a week – will face losing a month’s worth of benefits or three months if they refuse again.”
  • Independent: “only receive their benefits if they either show up at a jobcentre every day or commit to six months of voluntary work
  • Evening Standard: “This month, Osborne is due to launch the “Help to Work” scheme. It is the latest update of the workfare programme that forces the unemployed to do “voluntary” work or lose their benefits.”

For example, Anna Coote – New Economics Foundation describes it as (involuntary) volunteering:

“There is no evidence that “involuntary volunteering” leads to paid jobs for more than a lucky few. Several studies have shown that just about the same number get jobs after volunteering as those who don’t.

What’s more, forcing people into unpaid labour contradicts the spirit of volunteering. People usually volunteer because they hope to find themselves in a congenial setting, doing work that is meaningful and personally fulfilling. Otherwise it is just thankless drudgery – no less demoralising and demotivating than long-term unemployment.”

Even those on the other side of argument call it volunteering. Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) have said in support of Help to Work (“Voluntary work will help the skills of the unemployed”), some people just need a “push” to volunteer according to Dr Stephen Davies, Education Director at the IEA.

What’s going on here?

Let’s back up a little. This has not come out of nowhere. The Government a few years ago was very reluctant to describe claimants involvement in DWP initiatives as mandatory. In fact, they were quite keen on describing participation in their work experience programme as voluntary.

Back in 2012, commenting on the DWP’s work experience scheme, Chris Grayling MP, then Employment Minister, said on Channel 4 News: “The scheme is voluntary …for those who have volunteered. Let’s be clear this is a voluntary scheme.”

On Today on Radio 4 (Feb 2012), Grayling said:

Evan Davies: So it is an entirely, entirely voluntary scheme, that one?

Chris Grayling: Entirely voluntary.

Grayling continued:

There is no circumstance in which we would mandate any individual to take part in work activity for a big company, that doesn’t happen.

Looking at the official documentation the government has avoided explicitly labelling Help to Work as volunteering – here, here or here.

But they clearly concede it is mandatory:

Help to Work will be mandatory and people who fail to participate could lose their Jobseeker’s Allowance for 4 weeks for a first failure and 13 weeks for a second failure.

However, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the coalition government is using the inference that this activity is volunteering-like.

In September 2013, the Chancellor, George Osborne in his speech to the Conservative party conference described the next phase of the DWP’s reforms:

“Today I can tell you about a new approach we’re calling Help to Work. For the first time, all long term unemployed people who are capable of work will be required to do something in return for their benefits, and to help them find work.

They will do useful work putting something back into their community. Making meals for the elderly, clearing up litter, working for a local charity.

Others will be made to attend the job centre every working day. And for those with underlying problems, like drug addiction and illiteracy, there will be an intensive regime of support.

No one will be ignored or left without help. But no one will get something for nothing. Help to work – and in return work for the dole.”

The similarities between Help to Work and a full-time government-run volunteering programme are striking. Osborne deliberately used the example of the local charity in his conference speech, of getting the unemployed to participate in activities for public benefit, all for a reasonable stipend (the dole).

It’s a neat, calculated conjuring trick that transforms Jobcentre Plus into the Peace Corps. But instead of giving to a humanitarian project, you may end up offering the fruits of your labour to Serco, A4E or Atos.

This is a policy initiative that looks like volunteering on the outside, but actually tastes of an old fashioned community service programme on the inside. Susan Ellis and Steve McCurley rightly (as it’s turned out) observed in 2002 that the oxymoron of the ‘mandated volunteer’ would steadily increase as governmental policy across different countries looked more to compulsory community service programmes. Goverment led community service have been characterised for many years by their mandatory nature.

Chris Grayling in front of the Work and Pensions Committee (House of Commons) in March 2012:

“They [Work Programme providers] have the power to mandate but they will only mandate to community benefit projects. All participation in Work Experience with commercial organisations will be done on a voluntary basis in the Work Programme as well as through Jobcentre Plus.”

It is an iron fist in a velvet glove. But there’s also a legal consideration that’s worth noting as it highlights the distinction that’s relevant to this discussion.

In Work Programme Provider Guidance (updated: 26/04/ 2013 1 V6.00 PDF) – Chapter 3c – “work experience on a voluntary basis and community benefit work placement” – it states:

“”Employment” has a wide meaning, and participants are likely to be regarded as employees if they agree voluntarily to take up the placement with a particular employer.”


“NMW is very unlikely to apply to participants mandated to participate in unpaid work experience or an unpaid community benefit work placement through the Work Programme, or to Participants who volunteer to take part in an unpaid placement of either type which is not a work trial exceeding 6 weeks.”

In Chapter 3 it states:

“Where you are providing support for JSA participants, which is work experience you must mandate participants to this activity. This is to avoid the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which will apply if JSA participants are not mandated.”

In March 2014 new amendments of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 came into force which include exemptions from NMW for traineeships such as:

“work experience placement and work preparation training”

This is in addition to the amendment to the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 that the coalition government made in July 2010 (PDF) just months after coming into power. They added to the exemptions:

“A worker who is participating in a scheme designed to provide training, work experience or temporary work, or to assist in seeking or obtaining work”

Latest official advice is that those involved in government work experience programmes are exempt from NMW. In 2013, government put out guidance on “National minimum wage: work experience and internships” which emphasised that those who fit the definition of “volunteer” or “voluntary worker” don’t qualify for NMW.

There’s a legal imperative to ensure claimants’ participation in Help to Work fits more closely with volunteering, than it does to working. In Oct 2013, MPs were provided with the following information (PDF) that National Minimum Wage legislation not applicable in case of the Work Programme (or Help to Work) because: they “do not constitute a “contract” as such, but are simply a requirement linked to ongoing receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)”. This hints at the complex line drawn between voluntary and mandatory in legal terms RE national minimum wage legislation.

As such the volunteering community in this country needs to be watching very carefully how Help to Work develops. We clearly need to stand together and reiterate that volunteering is voluntary.

Help to Work has potentially huge implications for volunteering in terms of changing public perceptions, diverting resources, restructuring the demand for volunteering opportunities and so on.

Yet the government appears less than alert to this possibility. It refuses to clearly explain how the increase in mandatory activity with Help to Work will affect volunteering more broadly.

In 2012 in Reilly & Anor, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2012] EWHC 2292: The Judge concluded:

Miss Reilly had (and, one hopes, still has) a primary career ambition. Her original complaint arose from what she was wrongly told was a compulsory placement on a scheme that (a) impeded her voluntary efforts to maintain and advance her primary career ambition and (b) having embarked upon it, from her perspective, did not offer any worthwhile experience on an alternative career path. It is not difficult to sympathise with her position from that point of view.

This case was an early flag, that showed how mandatory activity has a detrimental effect on genuine voluntary activity with Caitlin Reilly having to give up her volunteering in favour of the mandated placement with Poundland.

With the new rules on Help to Work from April 2014 the potential for mandated work to trump genuine volunteering is increased and will continue to have significant repercussions for volunteering.

In this request submitted under the Freedom of Information Act by Beatrix Bene to the DWP in January 2014, Bene asked the following:

“7. I have seen it on the internet that from April 2014 there will be a new scheme called Help to Work Scheme under which long-term unemployed JSA claimants may be mandated to do unpaid work for up to 30 hours per week for 26 weeks (community work placements).

Can I be mandated to do the above unpaid community work if I do voluntary work of my own choice which the Jobcentre knows about and which I have started already when being assessed whether to be mandated to do the above unpaid community work?”

The DWP’s answer?

“The department holds information on Help to Work Scheme but this is exempt under section 35 of the Freedom Of Information Act. This exemption relates to the formulation of government policy. I consider that the exemption applies because it is intended to protect the space within which government can think and develop its policies without prejudice. I maintain that the information you seek falls into this category.”

Let’s hope government is indeed still thinking about properly valuing genuine volunteering.

If not, the result is dissonance between what the politicians are saying and what those JSP administrators are deciding on the ground.

It is leading to confusion in the way it is reported and in how it will be seen by the wider public.

It is causing disagreement, misunderstanding and secrecy across the volunteering sector that risks bleeding into its relationship with government.

This all feels like a far cry from the bold consensus behind volunteering promised by the Big Society in the early years of the coalition government.

In the words of David Cameron (Hugo Young Lecture in November 2009):

Human kindness, generosity and imagination are steadily being squeezed out by the work of the state. The result is that today, the character of our society – and indeed the character of some people themselves, as actors in society, is changing…

Why? Because today the state is ever-present: either doing it for you, or telling you how to do it, or making sure you’re doing it their way.


If it doesn’t look like volunteering then it definitely isn’t… – Jamie Ward-Smith – (April 2014)

Thoughtful Thursday: Welfare reform and the impact on volunteering – Rachel Biggs – (April 2014)

Work. Fair. Volunteer. – Rebecca Tully (Nov 2013)

George Osborne needs to understand that volunteering isn’t free‘ – The voluntary sector is a key part of tackling unemployment but charities need support – Sir Stephen Bubb (Oct 2013)

Walking the talk on volunteering – Rob Jackson – (Nov 2013)

We need a clear distinction between volunteering and Help to Work scheme – Any kind of forced relationship that is labelled as volunteering undermines the very essence of what volunteering means – Sue Jones – (Oct 2013)

Giving activities: Part 3 – Civic engagement – Exploring Volunteering – Patrick Daniels – (Jan 2010)

Volunteering and Mandatory Community Service: Choice – Incentive – Coercion – Obligation – A Discussion Paper – Linda Graff (2006)

In information provided to MPs on work experience schemes (PDF), the issue of minimum wage legislation is flagged.
How to ensure that those working on Help to Work are not legally classified as workers under National Minimum Wage legislation? Answer: define them as ‘volunteers’ or ‘voluntary workers’.

The National Minimum Wage requires that “workers” and “employees”, as defined, receive a minimum rate of pay set under regulations. Those on work placement schemes designed to help those on benefits into work are neither “workers” nor “employees” and therefore the National Minimum Wage legislation does not apply. This is because these arrangements, including schemes such as the now discontinued Flexible New Deal or the existing Work Programme, do not constitute a “contract” as such, but are simply a requirement linked to ongoing receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).