Three things to look for in UK volunteering in 2017

By many people’s standards 2016 wasn’t a great year. You could almost hear the global sigh of relief when it ended. So what might 2017 have in store for us?

Despite the proliferation of articles and blog posts at this time of year claiming to know what lies ahead, nobody really knows what we will be reflecting on in twelve months time. So, rather than joining the crystal ball gazers, I want to highlight three things to keep an eye on in 2017 when it comes to volunteering in the UK.


National Citizens Service gets reviewed

National Citizens Service (NCS) turns seven this year, past the troublesome toddler years and growing fast. That’s the plan at least.

Spending on NCS has increased from £62 million in 2012-13, to £84.3 million a year later, to £130.4 million in 2014-15. In this parliament alone (2015-2020) the government is spending over £1 billion on NCS. Just let that figure sink in for a moment. More than £1 billion!

Yet, as Third Sector magazine reported in November 2015:

“NCS has consistently failed to hit its participation targets since it was launched in 2010. Almost 58,000 of the 80,000 places offered in 2014/2015 were filled. In 2013/14, fewer than 40,000 young people took part, against a target of 50,000.”

Whilst NCS is about much more than volunteering, giving time is a key element of the programme. All we know from the evaluations of NCS is that the contribution those volunteers make amounts to eight million hours of donated time. In other words, a measure of input, not impact.

With all this in mind it will be interesting to see what the National Audit Office (NAO) makes of NCS when it conducts a review into the scheme early this year. With budgets most volunteering initiatives could only dream of and targets consistently missed, the NAO’s report is bound to make for interesting reading.


Online volunteering booms

In a recent article for Nesta, Vicki Sellick predicts 2017 will be a big year for online volunteering. As Vicki, the Director of Nesta’s innovation lab, puts it:

”My prediction is that 2017 might just be the year of micro-volunteering and data donation, with cheap technologies allowing everyone to volunteer from home for short and sweet periods of time, no matter how much time they have to give.”

I’m interested to see if Vicki is correct for a few reasons:

  1. How will this be measured given national research on volunteering makes no attempt to separate out and report about online volunteers?
  2. Predictions around the growth of microvolunteering have been made before and so far there is no clear evidence that these have provided true (see point 1).
  3. Online volunteering has been around for at least twenty years already as this New York times article from May 1996 shows. Why then is 2017 going to be the boom year when we see sudden growth?
  4. Where will the opportunities come from if organisations don’t invest in creating the kinds of opportunities that these online volunteers might find interesting?
  5. Finally, as Jayne Cravens makes clear in her excellent article about the myths of online volunteering, it is wrong to say that virtual volunteering is great for people who otherwise don’t have time to volunteer. Look at the contract between what Vicki and Jayne say in these quotes:

”A busy life, working two jobs, unsociable working hours and living in a remote location can all make it difficult for people to give time or money to good causes in their community. But technology now makes it possible to give your time and energy from the comfort of your own sofa.” – Vicki Sellick

”Volunteering online requires real time, not virtual time. If you don’t have time to volunteer offline, you probably also do not have time to volunteer online. Online volunteering should never be promoted as an alternative approach for people who don’t have time to volunteer face-to-face.” – Jayne Cravens


Review into the status of full-time volunteers

Just before Christmas the government announced that it had commissioned an independent review into full-time youth volunteering. The review, which is due to publish it’s recommendations in the autumn, will look at how to increase participation in full-time volunteering by examining the opportunities and barriers faced by organisations supporting young people.

Intriguingly, the i newspaper reported that the review will look into how government might support young people “to undertake a “year of service” before entering employment or going on to university.”

When the review was announced Dame Julia Cleverdon, co-founder of the #iwill campaign, intriguingly mentioned that the review would include the legal status of full-time volunteers.

”This review could be a watershed moment. The #iwill campaign wholeheartedly supports the creation of a legal status for full-time volunteers.”

This has been a murky issue since the National Minimum Wage Act when the concept of a Voluntary Worker was introduced to protect full-time and often residential volunteering, such as the opportunities that were offered by CSV (now Volunteering Matters). These muddy legislative waters have created further confusion as the debate about unpaid internships has developed in recent years.

Whatever the agenda, the results of the review will be interesting to read.


As ever I’d love to hear what you think. Do you agree with what I have said? Do you disagree? Are there other things we should be keeping an eye on? And, if you are not from the UK, what are the volunteering issues to watch in your country.

Over to you.

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