Wrongs and rights for volunteers

Mike Locke was the Head of Volunteering and Development at NCVO and left in July 2014. He blogged about issues with the practice, organisation and development of volunteering. His posts have been archived here.

The problem of how to establish fair procedures for volunteers who feel wrongly treated is very much alive.

The final report of the Call to Action Progress Group (PDF 251KB) set up in 2011 by the Volunteer rights Inquiry is published today.

The Group, which I chaired, has promoted the 3R Promise which asks volunteering organisations to sign up that their procedures for managing volunteers seek to get it Right, offer Reconciliation when things go wrong and take Responsibility.

Over 200 organisations have signed up, though this is a small fraction of volunteering organisations.

The promise was devised by the Volunteer Rights Inquiry. It took evidence from volunteers and volunteer managers on the nature and extent – which could not be measured – of cases where volunteers felt unjustly or unfairly treated.

The inquiry wrestled with arguments about whether there was a need for an ombudsman or regulatory or appeals procedures. It recommended that initially the focus should be on developing good practice in volunteer management, and not in creating new institutions.

Since then, Lord Hodgson’s review of charity law has suggested charities set up internal complaints procedures and raised the case for independent review or appeal procedures, and the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) concurred. They warned charities of the dangers of risking their reputation or losing public trust.

Our group has not found a consensus to resolve this issue. We accept, in our conclusions, ‘two strongly held stances’.

  • Some of our group expressed from their viewpoint the necessity for a regulatory system to provide for fair treatment of volunteers and independent resolution of disputes.
  • Others within the Group stressed that from their viewpoint they believe this to be impractical and disproportionately expensive and that the problem should be tackled through good management practice in organisations.

So, we pose three questions:

To volunteering organisations…

How would you respond to the Hodgson and PASC recommendations for their internal procedures for handling complaints, and for an appeals or regulatory system to deal with volunteer complaints?

To umbrella bodies…

How, if volunteering organisations sought a form of external appeal and review, might you help them do that?

For public policy…

Is there a practical case, if not for an umbrella body, a new body to take on such a regulatory role?

Finally, we find the case for the 3R Promise is still strong and recommend NCVO should take it into its good practice information.

Our Group has ended its role. But for my part I don’t believe the volunteering movement will ignore the distress of volunteers who have maybe given years and then been told they are no longer wanted.

We could not claim that the 3R Promise has ensured the fair treatment of volunteers nationally. Our Group certainly hasn’t solved the problem, but we have clarified and laid groundwork for continued debate.

This entry was posted in Policy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Like this? Read more

Posts written by guests who have contributed to NCVO projects and events.

2 Responses to Wrongs and rights for volunteers

  1. The 3R Promise definitely seems like a productive way to deal with this issue. It is great to see that it is being tackled and adopted by some. Hopefully it will be more fully adopted by others as work is done to share this as best practise within volunteering.

  2. Rachel Cllark says:

    I know the report highlights the difference in views of organisations on whether an independent body is needed but what I started wondering was whether there isn’t a new volunteer role in here? They would obviously need to be managed from somewhere but you could recruit a ‘crack team’ of volunteers who could be flown in to help manage conflicts that are escalating. Each team could consist of a volunteer who also happens to work in volunteer management and a volunteer who also volunteers somewhere else. That way you get a balanced perspective across the team.