Best of volunteering 2014

It is that time of the year when the papers are full of ‘best of’ lists. Best book, best film, best goal, you know the sort of thing. Anyway, it got me thinking about the best of volunteering during the past 12 months. Now this isn’t scientific in any sense whatsoever; purely my own individual selection, and what took my fancy during the course of the year. If you agree, great; if not, even better. And if you disagree, please let me have your own favourites.

So here goes.

Best book

I loved Georgina Brewis’s social history of student volunteering which, as I have written elsewhere, did what all good history should do: both tell a good story and throw light on issues of present interest. I found it strangely comforting that volunteering leaders in the mid-twentieth century were debating whether the language of volunteering was outdated and whether the state was in danger of crowding out voluntary action. Do we ever learn?

Best article

Lots of good articles this year but my favourite was from the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing which raised some fundamental challenges about how as a movement we need to respond to the demands of the baby boomer generation – now retired or soon to be – if we are to capture their enthusiasm and harness their skills and experience for the good of our communities.

Best speech

For its symbolic importance, quite as much as for its content (which was also pretty good), best speech has to go to the chief economist of the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, for his analysis of the social value of volunteering. For such a senior figure from such an august institution to be making a major pronouncement on volunteering, suggests a growing acceptance among the powers that be that volunteering matters. Now all we need is to persuade them that it isn’t free. Perhaps that is a task for 2015.

Best statistic

Still on the theme of valuing volunteering, my prize for best stat of 2014 goes to Join In for its calculation that the value of sports volunteering to UK GDP is in excess of £50 billion pa, making it larger than the energy industry. At the launch event in October, the former Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’ Donnell came up with possibly the best one-liner of the year, when he bemoaned the fact that, while the ONS still refuses to add volunteering to the official list of GDP, they had in their wisdom recently added prostitution and drug dealing. One implication, he said, is that if all we are interested in as a society is economic growth, the obvious thing to do is to encourage volunteers to stop volunteering and take up these other more economically valued pursuits.

Best of social media

My old friend and colleague, @robjconsulting, is always thoughtful and challenging and has written some great Blogs this year, as have my NCVO colleagues, @matthewhillsays, @nickockenden, @karlwilding. Best social media campaign goes to Volunteers’ Week which again managed to trend on Twitter for most of the first week of June, though I also liked the #iwill campaign from Step up to Serve, aimed at increasing the number of young people engaged in social action. I don’t use Twitter so am at a disadvantage in adjudicating on tweet of the year, but I did like Helen Timbrell’s masterly multi-tasking at the recent National Volunteering Forum at the National Trust Quarry Bank Mill in Manchester: ‘Clocking up the tea towel sales @quarrybankmill with @LynneBerry1 @NCVO #volforum . We’re talking volunteering too!’

Best volunteering project

It just has to be Leeds Volunteer Centre’s prison project. Funded by the NESTA innovation fund Voluntary Action Leeds, led by the indefatigable Natasha Mort, who I am delighted to say has just been appointed as a trustee of NCVO, set up a base within the local prison, to encourage soon-to-be released prisoners to take up volunteering as a way of aiding their rehabilitation. The results in the first year and a bit have been nothing short of astounding, with re-offending rates plummeting. Tells us all we need to know about the difference local infrastructure can make to the future of volunteering with vision, leadership and investment.

So there you have it

A few of my favourites from 2014. Oh and in case you were wondering: best book, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; best film, Mr Turner by Mike Leigh; and best goal – well any scored by Watford FC.

Wishing you a great festive season and speak to you again in 2015.

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Justin was executive director of volunteering and development at NCVO and chief executive of Volunteering England. He is now a senior research fellow at City University Cass Business School’s Centre for Charity Effectiveness.

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