Volunteering: time for some joined up thinking… and funding

They all want ‘em!

NHS trusts want them, so do health and social care services and what would be really good, would be if some of them, could straddle both (hospital-to-home-to-hospital). It would also be nice if they could influence the development of local services to make them better reflect local need.

But there’s also the problem of an aging population, we need them to help there too. Then there’s the fire service – they’ve got them; the criminal justice system – got ‘em and could do with more please; the police – well their need is such that they recently held a national consultation.

Volunteers, your country needs you!

We (the public) will need to be more involved. The growth of volunteering will require some culture change and buy-in from us, as potential volunteers, if it is to succeed. And of course, it will require the volunteering experience to be a good one.

How volunteering works

To grow, volunteering has to meet the needs and aspirations of the people who volunteer and reflect the causes they care about. Substituting a job title with a volunteering role is to misunderstand the nature of volunteering.

The better approach is being task-led. Reflecting on the needs of the organisation, its beneficiaries and then the additional skills and experience volunteers could bring that would compliment the work of paid staff.

By focusing on the volunteer tasks, the organisation is not then bound to one individual or group or their availability. They can create volunteer opportunities (tasks) with the potential to attract a wider range of people and skills, then once established these opportunities can be sub-divided again, if necessary, to meet local supply.

Volunteering is flexible, it brings added value. A retired health service employee told me recently that her volunteering gave her the wonderful luxury of time to give to patients, a luxury she couldn’t afford when working professionally.

Most organisations at some point need support in developing or running their volunteering programmes. Even large, established national charities with seasoned volunteer programmes need help managing their opportunities at a local level.

Research tells us that most people prefer to volunteer locally. There is a need for local support for volunteering. The volunteer centre, unlike direct delivery services, has aims and objectives that encompass the growth and development of volunteering, wherever it takes place, in their local area. Their expertise in volunteer management combined with their local knowledge, reach and trust enriches the local volunteering environment for both organisations and volunteers.

Volunteering works by creating and maintaining quality volunteer opportunities that reflect local need.

But who’s going to pay for ‘em?

Historically, volunteer centres are core-funded by local authorities; usually by one department or cost centre within a local authority. But with current financial constraints some funding for local volunteering support services has been reduced, incredibly, at a time when those services have never been more in demand.

But there are many departments within a local authority who are developing their involvement of volunteers; and if you combine them with NHS trusts, community health services, the criminal justice system, the fire service, the police, etc, – then there is a good argument for a better-resourced volunteer centre. The cost of which would be minimised if shared by each major service provider.

To effect cultural change and re-engage more of us in the delivery and development of our local services, we need new thinking, new partnerships and a national strategic approach to the development of volunteering.

See NCVO’s quality accredited volunteer centres or email john.carlin@ncvo.org.uk for more information.


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John is NCVO’s volunteer centre support manager. He is responsible for NCVO’s strategy for maximising the impact and sustainability of Volunteer Centres and other local organisations in England.

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