Volunteering and the recession

Sale charity shop taken by Howard Lake

Has the volunteer “workforce” changed as a result of the economic climate and if so in what way? Here’s follows a number of pointers:

  • An online survey on the AVM website shows that 78% of the volunteer managers who responded had seen more people volunteering (10% flat – 12% less)
  • Volunteer Centres have been reporting higher numbers of enquirers
  • Charities have seen steady growth in numbers of volunteers, increased offers of professional / skilled help and higher demand for office roles and flexible opportunities. Most recruitment is driven by some kind of action on the part of the volunteer involving organisation to, at least, meet the volunteer halfway.
  • The new Citizenship Survey (October 2009) figures show that people formally volunteering once a month or more have remained almost unchanged since 2001 and have fallen from 27% (2007-8) to 26% (2008-9). These CS stats are the ones that the government use to measure their activity to stimulate volunteering. 43% said they had volunteered in the last year, back up to its previous level after falling to 41% in the last CS.
  • The calibre / quality of volunteers is strong currently as students seek to develop their CVs, people who are out of work look for experience and opportunities to try new things. We received well over 500 applications for roles in our internship scheme with 40 posts available. Almost every applicant was a graduate. Online applications for skilled roles and speculative offers from skilled / professional volunteers have increased significantly for many, but not all colleagues say this is the case.
  • There are a number of government initiatives that aim to engage people in volunteering. Some have been around a while some are about to come out (Community Task Force – due to launch in January). In certain cases they involve compulsion and so it is debateable whether they are volunteering at all. People from abroad who are applying for citizenship are to be fast tracked if they volunteer – this will have a significant impact on VMs. We will have to fill in the forms and will be liable if the information is not correct. We will be expected to develop, deliver and manage large numbers of suitable roles but there is nothing in the act that provides any support or funding for VMs and the organisations they work for. AVM consults with government as much as possible on these issues but the turnover of ministers at OTS and the constraints of time and budget often mean that these ideas do not deliver value for money invested (tax!), at least not by voluntary sector standards!

Perceived “rush” of extra volunteers puts pressure on VMs (usually without any extra resource).

  • Organisations may have the idea that it is easy to get volunteers for anything now and that government funding is available to support them in their roles. Government schemes have often been heavy on publicity but light on delivery.
  • Volunteer roles that will help in job seeking may not be easily available within orgs.
  • At the same time the VM may risk his / her reputation by placing a volunteer in a role only to have them leave when a job becomes available. Great, but can be a problem for VMs promoting volunteering internally to Third Sector managers.
  • The capacity of stretched VMs to capitalise on the increased availability of volunteers, such as it is, limits the benefit to charities and other organisations and therefore to society.

In summary, there is evidence, albeit anecdotal, that there is an increase in the overall number of volunteers available and that highly skilled people, affected by the recession, are increasingly looking to volunteering as a way of gaining benefit from time they now find available.

However, volunteer managers and the organisations they serve are limited in their ability to capitalise on this increase in both the quality and quantity of volunteers available, by the limited resources allocated to volunteering by organisations and the unwillingness of government to fund volunteer management within the sector, with a view to meeting their own goals around volunteering and community involvement, around workforce skills and around the development of the Third Sector as a whole.

PHOTO CREDIT: Howard Lake – Flickr – Poster in the window of Oxfam shop in Colchester, Essex in July 2009.
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