What Makes Volunteers’ Week Happy?

Happy Volunteers Week!! And it should be a happy time, volunteering as an activity is increasing and I would hope that that is an indicator that people are happy doing it.

Over the past few years there has been an increase in the amount of money that has been invested in the development of volunteering. There has been project funding for the recruitment of specific groups of volunteers such as young people, disabled people and people from socially disadvantaged groups for example.

And the recent economic situation has lead to more investment in volunteering with programmes dedicated to enabling people who are out of work to retain their skills or develop new ones, there should be more people than ever before having a Happy Volunteers week this year.

So, my question is – is volunteering the happy experience we hope it will be? The 1997 National Survey of Volunteering in the UK (www.ivr.org.uk) found that the benefits that people reported from volunteering include enjoying the activity, the satisfaction of seeing results, meeting people and a sense of personal achievement. These were in addition to more tangible benefits such as the opportunity to learn new skills, get a qualification and gain a position within the community.

With changes in public policy such as CRB checks and health and safety, as well as changes in funding patterns many organisations have increased the range of responsibilities laid on volunteers.

However, in the 208 study on the impact of public policy on volunteering in community based organisations (www.ivr.org.uk) some organisations have reported that the withdrawal, or non continuance of funding has led to a cut down in organisational activities, reduction in the range and scope of volunteering activities and fewer resources to support volunteers.

The variable project funding that organisations use to resource volunteering has a direct impact on the support and development offered to volunteers. While those organisations who received funding to employ a volunteer co-ordinator were able to demonstrate increases in the support and development of volunteers, some organisations found that funding cuts meant that staff had less time to for training or supervision of volunteers. Some organisations had also made cuts in the less formal aspects of thanking volunteers including social events which are often highly valued by volunteers.

The 2008 research bulletin Management Matters: a national survey of volunteer management capacity found that volunteer management was a full-time occupation for only 6 per cent of respondents. Nonetheless, the numbers of volunteers supported by individuals ranged from one or two to several hundreds or even thousands. With increased paperwork as a result of policy and funding changes it is hardly surprising that most staff responsible for managing volunteers report increased pressure of work.

Volunteer involving organisations are increasingly turning to external sources of funding for the resources that they need to manage volunteers, and yet this type of project funding makes it difficult for organisations to effectively plan sustainable programmes of support and development for volunteers.

With seven out of ten volunteers reporting dissatisfaction with the way in which their voluntary work was organised in the 1997 survey, let us call on volunteer involving organisations to find core funds to develop and implement sustainable programmes of support and development of volunteers, and those who manage them so that every week can be a Happy Volunteers Week.

This was originally posted on the Red Foundation blog.

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