House of Lords’ recommendations on volunteering: a positive call to action we can all get behind

Following the publication of the House of Lords select committee on charities’ report Stronger Charities for a Stronger Society (PDF, 1.7MB), we are publishing a series of posts covering the take-away issues and what charities can do in response, highlighting what we think are the best available resources to help you if you want to take action. Look out for further posts on:

Since the publication of the House of Lords’ select committee report on charities there has been a lot of discussion of the proposals around trustees as volunteers, but relatively limited focus on the other recommendations on volunteering.

Let’s start by acknowledging that there is nothing new here that hasn’t been said before. The recommendations reinforce messages that NCVO, volunteer managers and other advocates for volunteering have been working hard to communicate to policy makers for some time. That there is little new here is definitely not a criticism: indeed, the fact that these recommendations need to be made again tells a story. Now there is greater authority behind these messages and they are coming from such a high profile, cross-party committee, which can only be a good thing. Our challenge, as ever, is to seize the opportunity.

We all need to be guardians of volunteering

The recommendations represent a cross-party call to action on volunteering and have the potential to ensure that volunteering does not become a political football. Sustaining and enhancing something so fundamental to our society requires a cross-party and cross-sector approach to policymaking. Charities may be as the report says, the ‘primary conduits for volunteering’ but they are not the only ones. Volunteering in public services is likely to grow and develop and businesses can support this, as the report suggests, by enabling employees to take time out to volunteer. As a sector we should seek to lead and galvanise cross-party and cross-sector support and turn it into collective action to address the constraints and barriers to volunteering. We all have a role to play as guardians of volunteering and the valuable role it plays in civil society.

Volunteering for everyone

The full-time social action review is welcomed in the report and this presents an opportunity to bring people together across sectors to discuss barriers to young people getting involved in full-time volunteering opportunities but we have to be careful that we don’t let other groups fall through the gaps. Inclusivity needs to be central to our approach to growing volunteering. Involvement in volunteering has the potential to improve wellbeing, skills and life chances; we need to ensure everyone has an opportunity to access and experience these benefits.

An important part of doing this is offering greater flexibility and enabling people to fit volunteering into their lives, as the report identifies. One of the challenges with volunteering is that one size doesn’t fit all and as I have previously noted we need to ensure a diverse landscape of opportunities and this requires interventions at the local level as well as the national. Local support for volunteering is key in ensuring that we have high-quality, meaningful volunteering roles and support for people to access volunteering opportunities. Digital is providing solutions to some of the issues around supply and demand but it will never be the whole solution, especially when one in ten adults in the UK have never used the internet. NCVO will be consulting with members to ensure their reviews are represented in the full-time social action review.

Put your money where your mouth is

In the past too much focus has been placed on growing volunteering numbers without considering the importance of quality opportunities and the investment required in volunteer management and support. There’s no point in recruiting people to volunteer if their experience is such that they don’t then stay around. Investing in volunteers is part of recognising their contribution. It is a breath of fresh air to see such a high-profile report calling for greater investment in volunteering and for funders to think again when organisations make applications for funding to support volunteer managers and coordinator roles. These are the people that make volunteering happen on the ground, yet too frequently their roles are undervalued and their area of work underfunded.

This is the case not just in charities but also in the public sector. The political rhetoric and high-level strategies like the Five Year Forward View in the NHS would have us believe that now is the time for volunteering, yet on the ground we hear about over-stretched volunteer managers, a lack of top-level buy-in and investment. Hopefully the recommendation for government guidance on public sector grants to take into account costs for volunteer management will set the standard and lead to real change. NCVO will be seeking to discuss with government and funders how to take this recommendation forward.

If it ain’t broke…

Amid all this talk of action I think it’s worth saying that we need to understand our limitations here. Long-term volunteering patterns are incredibly hard to shift and our motivations for giving time and participating are influenced by our culture, our values and our relationships. These are things that are best not interfered with, especially not by government. In some cases the decision not to take action may be just as valuable as intervening. We would also call for responses to build on what is already working on the ground and seek to share learning from effective models and approaches.

Support for volunteer managers

If you are a volunteer manager then there is support out there to help you deliver the best experience for your volunteers. You can find NCVO’s resources and quality standard Investing in Volunteers , which provides a framework for developing some of the areas mentioned in the report.

Peer support is hugely valuable and connecting with others in the profession can help to strengthen it. The Association of Volunteer Managers also welcomed the report this week; and if you manage volunteers and haven’t connected with them yet then I would encourage you to do so.

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Avatar photo Kristen is NCVO’s Volunteer Management and Good Practice Manager. She’s interested in raising the profile of volunteer management as a profession, and the development of approaches which can help volunteering deliver for people, organisations and communities.

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