Below is a (slightly edited) transcript of a speech I gave at Derbyshire Volunteer Centres’ Conference in Matlock bath on Tuesday 2 June 09:
Thank you for inviting me to your conference today. It’s good to see so many of you here today, especially as this is the 25th anniversary of Volunteers Week.
We meet today under skies filled with the clouds of economic doom. The ever present rumble of redundancy, cut backs and termination of funding fills the air and indeed, lightening has stuck not just in the banking and the car industries, but in the 3rd sector too. Many charities have let people go and these include volunteer managers.
One large national charity has made redundant members of its volunteer team cutting it from 3 full time people to one part time person and has decided not to pursue external funding as the economic climate has impacted on their cash flow. Another very large cancer charity has been running its volunteering department at less that full strength for 6 months now. I’m sure you know of many other similar stories.
So in these financial times, is Volunteer Management a luxury? In actual fact has it always been seen that way?
Let’s look at some statistics:
The 2003 Home Office Citizenship Survey found that:
- 42% of population of England & Wales formally volunteered.
- Est. 1.1m full time UK workers needed to replace formal volunteers.
Let’s also look at what’s on the horizon:
- There’s Gordon Brown’s idea of Community Service for all 16 – 19 year olds with a budget of £156m ear-marked.
- There’s a £6.5m scheme to help 40,000 long term unemployed back into work through volunteering.
- There’s the Citizenship & Immigration Bill that encourages migrant to volunteer to fast-track applications.
- The Olympics are only 3 years away and needs 70,000 volunteers.
- 32% orgs have no funding to support vols; (not just about small turnover either 14% of orgs with £1mil+ turnover don’t invest in it)
- 24% Volunteer Managers manage over 50 vols
- 59% Volunteer Managers said they only had capacity to involve less than 10 vols more
(stats from Management Matters: A National Survey of Volunteer Management Capacity, Institute for Volunteering Research, 2008)
So are Volunteer Managers a luxury? Given those figures why is it that we seem to get such a poor deal? Why is it that the sector seems to think that “things will tick along ok” for a while without a Volunteer Manager or with poor investment in Volunteer Management. Are we viewed as not totally essential? I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted when I say that we at AVM think completely differently. Volunteer Management is not a luxury. Effective Volunteer Management needs proper support and investment.
It seems to me there is a perception from funders that it’s a question of numbers. More volunteers = better volunteering. But surely it is a question of quality over quantity. Properly funded, resourced and supported Volunteer Managers would lead to a better volunteering experience for the volunteer and the organization, which in turn would lead to greater volunteer involvement. There is evidence to support this:
In an internal volunteer survey by Citizens Advice, found a strong correlation between the positive experiences volunteers had had and the existence of a specific volunteer manager. For example:
Do you feel valued as a volunteer?
- Volunteers with a specific volunteer manager 94% said yes
- Volunteers without one 64% said yes
Would you recommend volunteering at the organisation?
- Volunteers with a specific volunteer manager 91% said yes
- Volunteers without one 66% said yes
In addition, anecdotally, both the number of people with a remit to manage volunteers and the support available has increased significantly. If this is correct, then a correlation can be drawn with the results from the national volunteering surveys in 1997 and 2007. In 1997, 71% volunteers said they felt their volunteering could be better organised. Ten years later this had fallen to 31%.
A 2008 survey (Hutchinson & Ockenden (The Impact of Public Policy on Volunteering in Community Based Organisations), 2008 found that an increased capacity within volunteer management led to an improvement in recruiting and managing volunteers.
One organisation that secured funding to employ a volunteer manager noticed the benefits:
‘It’s because we have been able to dedicate more time to recruiting, training and supporting the volunteers. We are getting better at attracting and retaining skilled volunteers’.
If more evidence is needed that we are struggling with capacity rather than necessarily a lack of volunteers, though I know of areas where this is the case, an article in Third Sector a couple of weeks ago (19 May 09) mentioned that Volunteer Centres were struggling with a ‘tidal wave of demand’… with demand for placements outstripping supply.’
We also operate within an increased legal and regulatory framework. We need to be vigilant about the legal status of volunteers and CRB checks for example. Volunteers aren’t covered by employment law, but that doesn’t absolve us of our need to treat volunteers fairly and respectfully. We need to ensure that we follow Good Practice in involving volunteers.
This can be backed up with some of the cases that have made the headlines such as the volunteer ‘strike’ at York CAB in 2008 and the consequences it had.
There is also a lack of understanding within government departments and parliament about volunteering. Witness Dianne Abbott’s recent early day motion about people on JSA not being able to volunteer for more than 16 hours per week.
So no, Volunteer Management is not a luxury. Our roles as Volunteer Manager are just as vital to organizations as fundraisers or campaigners and I think our roles deserve the same support and recognition.
We as volunteer managers are gate keepers if you like, with an ‘institutional understanding’ of volunteering guarding against volunteers being used for what perhaps should be paid roles, being treated as paid staff and quickly becoming disillusioned.
So how can we raise the profile of volunteer management so that we have the recognition and support we need to continue improving the involvement and support of volunteers.
Well this conference is one way. Derbyshire Volunteer Centres’ recognition of the need to support, train and inspire Volunteer Managers and your presence here today shows our commitment to developing our profession.
As a community we support each other through local networks, the UKVPMs forum on Yahoo for example and we now also have the AVM.
To conclude, Volunteer Management is not a luxury. The roles that you perform are vital to your organizations; perhaps more so in today’s current economical climate.
Volunteering isn’t just about numbers. The primary aim of volunteering isn’t to help the long term unemployed into work, to fast track citizenship or to create a better society through community service.
We involve volunteers to help our organizations to do more. Better resourced, funded, supported and understood Volunteer Management will lead to a greater capacity to support volunteers and an increase in volunteers. This in turn will better support the motivations of people volunteering.
Thank you again for inviting me today, thank you for your time and I very much hope you enjoy today.