NAVCA Blog - 6/03/2012

The following blogs were posted on 6/03/2012.

Volunteering: a changing landscape

The policy landscape for volunteering is changing rapidly. The Government has introduced a flurry of initiatives, and social action (of which volunteering is a key element) features heavily in their programme. The Government notion of social action has led to the boundaries of volunteering becoming blurred; activities that are now called ‘volunteering’ may no longer fit conventional definitions.

NAVCA has traditionally drawn a distinction between volunteering and wider voluntary sector support and development work. We have also had apolicyposition of supporting all ‘volunteering’, which is perhaps out of step with the world as it is. We have started to question whether we need to change our position on many of these issues. So we decided to review our approach to volunteering and a number of the initiatives with which it is closely associated. More detailed background can be found in our analysis paper but here I want to set out some of our current thinking and invite you to join the debate. What follows is very much formative thinking, which is fleshed out in more detail in our analysis paper,   designed to stimulate debate.

Firstly: We will encourage and support all forms of community action, where benefits to individuals and communities can be demonstrated.

Secondly: Our default response to new “volunteering” initiatives will not be semantic debate about whether they are volunteering or not. Instead we will focus on the merits of particular initiatives and how they can be improved.

If activities:

  • deliver real benefits for individuals, organisations and communities;
  • encourage sustainable community action;
  • are cost effective and the best way to deliver the desired outcomes;
  • build on existing initiatives rather than re-inventing the wheel;
  • open to all; and
  • do not coerce people into unpaid work

we will support them and encourage members to do likewise. If they fail to pass these simple tests, we will lobby for changes and improvements.

Thirdly: We will challenge the use of the term “volunteering” where its use threatens to undermine wider voluntary action or volunteering itself.

Fourthly: We will be sensitive to local circumstances and local priorities and realise that certain decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis.

So what would this mean in practice?

  • We would oppose the description of compulsory activities as “volunteering” because doing so fundamentally undermines the concept of volunteering as freely chosen activity. 
  • We will support well run, rewarded volunteering and employer supported volunteering schemes. In most cases they are effective ways of promoting community action. Are they really volunteering? Perhaps they are; perhaps they aren’t but does it really matter, if they produce real benefits for individuals and communities?
  • We would encourage members to engage with National Citizen Service and Community Organisers as, whilst they are not as we would design them, they may be right for some people. We will also argue for improvements and changes, and for investment in youth volunteering programmes.
  • On the use of volunteers in public services, there are probably no simple answers: it will be very much a case by case basis. In some cases the use of volunteers could be really transformative; in others they could just be simple cost cutting and job substitution; in others, services may only continue where the community has the skills and capacity to take them on – this raises real issues around equalities.
  • Equally we understand that the new environment will pose opportunities and challenges for members. There may be chances of working in different ways and adapting services but there are real challenges in terms of meeting increased demand with reduced funding. Again, there will be no simple solutions.

We are keen to hear from you.

  • What do you think of these proposed approaches
  • Do you agree with the above criteria, against which we will assess ‘volunteering’ initiatives?
  • How are you responding to new and emerging initiatives such as National Citizen Service, Community Organisers and public service reform?
  • How are you adapting your services in the changed funding environment?


Please contribute to this review by commenting on the blog or joining in a discussion on navcaboodle. 

Continue reading the rest of this entry »Posted on 6th Mar 2012 at 02:02 by Peter Horner and has 3 comments.

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