These are 5 headlines from this week Third Sector (21 Jul 09). I can’t remember there being so many stories about volunteering in one issue and the first three were on the first 3 pages!
Any publicity is good publicity as they say, however, I can’t help but feel a little down about these headlines.
From someone on the outside with no knowledge as to the reasons why the brokerage scheme to help long-term unemployed back into work through volunteering was set up in the way it was, it seems like a complete botch job, an utter waste of money and a clear lack of understanding of the nature of volunteering. I really find this surprising given the players involved.
The next two stories suggest that we’re not doing enough to promote volunteering to people close to retirement or the young. However I look at the money pumped in to supporting youth volunteering for example through v, the work of Youthnet and RockCorps, hear anecdotal evidence from our peers and wonder is this really the case?
Those of you on UKVPMs have no doubt followed the debate about youths ‘volunteering’ to get their travel passes back. Is this another case of the definition of volunteering being ‘stretched’ to fit the needs of an initiative rather than the primary reason of volunteering?
Finally we have the Citizenship Survey reporting that the number of people formally volunteering is down. All the volunteer managers I know have found completely the opposite.
There seems to be a thread running through these stories to me. There seems to me to be a clear lack of understanding of the nature of volunteering from Government and people holding purse strings which is being perpetuated by the need for organisations to chase pots of money to stay in existence.
Am I being naïve in dreaming of a Utopia where funding is sought/available with the primary aim of supporting & developing volunteering, not funding schemes where volunteering is used as a tool to support the latest initiative no matter how worthy? Tail wagging dog? Square pegs in round holes?
Volunteering can be a part of the solution in helping long term unemployed into work, for engendering a sense of community and self worth in youths and for enabling people who have retired to continue to contribute to society. But these are not the primary aims of volunteering. We involve volunteers to add value to our organisations, to help us do more.
Can we as a sector unite and stand up for what we believe volunteering to be? To stand up to Government and stop volunteering being used as a political football? Let’s get things the right way round. Properly supported volunteering can play a powerful role in all the above if we understand the nature of volunteering and the part it can play. It’s not the solution main/only to curing all society’s ills.