Big volunteers, and even bigger volunteer managers

Just to put a few minds at rest following the ‘open to various interpretations’ article heading, what follows is not a perspective on levels of obesity in the voluntary sector! According to The Big Society Network, The Big Society is one in which ‘individual citizens feel big: big in terms of being supported and enabled; having real and regular influence; being capable of creating change in their neighbourhood’.

So, where does this leave volunteers, and volunteer managers? On The definition sounds good from a volunteers’ point of view, as The Big Society is described as though it will help them achieve some of the things a volunteer manager would help them to do. For sure, not all volunteers are motivated by the prospect of gaining influence, nor are all engaged in neighbourhood level roles. Nonetheless the definition will sound harmless enough to many, perhaps justifiably so.

From a volunteer managers’ perspective? The Big Society may instinctively sound supportive, although its tangibility may become clearer over time. After all, how many volunteer managers with a commitment to good, never mind best, practice, wouldn’t want their volunteers to feel supported and enabled, or be capable of creating change?

Might as well end the article here then by saying that the Big Society is a good thing. Only thing is, there’s still an element of doubt for some… surely such support is better provided by a physical person whose role it is to support you, rather than a centralised initiative whose reach will more often than not be virtual rather than physical?

Volunteers achieve great things for every cause out there, but their achievements are that much greater when a volunteer manager is there to support them. We as volunteer managers are seldom slow to express how great our volunteers are to the powers that be… have we weakened our profession in the process? After all, we’re all human beings – none of us wave magic wands enabling us to respond to every problem with a solution, whilst self-sustaining ourselves in all the ways we need.

In order to ensure that people have a positive experience of volunteering, including via Big Society programmes, greater investment in volunteer management would help. Let’s not forget the current economic climate is one that invites an increasing dependence on volunteers for some. Greater investment means the core funding of volunteer programmes, the recruitment of knowledgeable, passionate people who can drive volunteering within their organisations, and to fund training and support around volunteer management.
Achieve all of that, and we takes steps down the road to a society where more volunteers and their organisations and clients gain positive experiences, and there’s a more widely held understanding, acceptance of and involvement in what volunteering actually is. Or, to put it another way, a Big Society by our own definition?


Mike Gale
AVM Director and
Senior Officer, Inspiration and Legacy from the 2012 Games, Volunteering England

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