The three-day pledge
It seems pretty certain that something will happen, not least as it has the PM’s personal backing. But exactly what and when is not so clear. Our latest intelligence from the Cabinet Office and BIS is that legislation (if they go down this route) is still some way off and that the focus over the coming year will be on encouraging the sharing of what good practice is already out there.
NCVO remains supportive of the proposal but is only too aware of the challenges which will need to be overcome if it is to be successful. Chief among these are ensuring that effective brokerage is in place, sorting out the thorny issue of who will pay, and encouraging the development of more skills-based volunteering programmes to complement the one off team challenges which are still the norm in many places.
The best opportunity for success and for persuading employers to pay will be if we can embed volunteering within HR so that employers see it as a key element of learning and development, rather than simply part of their CSR programme, and NCVO will be pushing this line in 2016 in a new partnership with the HR experts, CIPD.
Will more people come forward to volunteer?
It is becoming clear just how difficult it is to shift long-term volunteering patterns. Since records began over 15 years ago we have seen only a five per cent movement in volunteering between the highest and lowest levels. The Olympic Year 2012 was a high point but numbers have slowly begun to settle back to their historic norm. So what is to be done?
Given that most surveys continue to suggest that lack of time (or a perceived lack of time) is the main barrier to volunteering, we should be looking to develop more flexible opportunities, taster sessions and micro opportunities which fit better with people’s ever-busy lifestyles. We should also continue to explore creative ways of allowing people to combine their volunteering with their other passions and interests such as keeping fit (the Good Gym and Park Run) or cooking (Casserole Club).
Perhaps we should be less fixated with numbers and more concerned about quality and impact – for the volunteer and the community. We certainly need to be better at extolling the benefits of volunteering given the mounting body of evidence of the contribution it can play to employability, social cohesion, good physical and mental health, and indeed happiness. With New Year resolutions very firmly in mind a recent study has suggested that volunteering can even help with weight loss?
And we need to do more about diversity and particularly about opening up opportunities for more people with disabilities to get involved. Oh and we need the Community Life survey to continue so we can continue to track trends and develop new strategies for engagement, as my colleague, Nick Ockenden, has argued persuasively.
What major volunteering initiatives can we expect in 2016?
There will be a renewed emphasis on trusteeship in the wake of the Kids Company crisis, and we will need to pay more attention to the issue of diversity (only 2% of charities for example currently have a young person on their board). This is not only because it is the right thing to do, but because we know the dangers of group think and that a range of experiences and perspectives are essential for effective governance, as I argued in a recent blog post.
We will see further initiatives to involve volunteers in public services and where done well, as in the case of King’s College Hospital in London, this can bring huge benefits; but we must avoid the trap of seeing volunteers simply as a way of papering over cracks and getting things done on the cheap. Co-production has become something of a cliché but it is the only way of ensuring that the true benefits of volunteering to our public services are unlocked.
Technology will continue to open up new ways for people to engage in easier and more flexible ways and at times that suit them.
What challenges will volunteering face in 2016
Funding will continue to be an issue in 2016. While volunteering delivers enormous value it is not cost free, but this is a truism many policy makers and funders seem incapable of grasping.
Volunteer management remains a Cinderella profession and needs far greater investment and recognition if it is to deliver to its full potential. As do Volunteer Centres which will continue to feel the brunt of local authority cuts. Many are successfully re-inventing themselves to survive and thrive in the new reality, but further changes will be required if they are to continue to be able to provide the support volunteering needs at a local level.
On red tape NCVO is seeing an increasing number of organisations inquiring about illegal working restrictions who are concerned that they need to do a full employment check for volunteers, an issue we are taking up with the Home Office.
And depressingly, given all the work which has gone into building better relations between local job centres and volunteer centres over the years, we are still hearing stories of job coaches not giving the right information on ‘volunteering while on benefits’ which is limiting the contribution volunteering can play to skills development and employability.
But to finish on a positive note. With the BBC planning a volunteering season for next year, and with London confirmed as the European Capital of Volunteering 2016, there is perhaps an opportunity to shift the media focus on charities onto a more positive plane.