Whilst it’s just a select committee recommendation at the moment, I hope that if the new A2V scheme comes to fruition the government will take the time to read the March 2011 “Evaluation of the Access to Volunteering Fund”. This report outlined the operation, successes and learning from the A2V pilot and noted some key findings, including:
An estimated 67% of the disabled people involved in Access to Volunteering funded initiatives were new to volunteering.
The Fund has been successful in involving new organisations with no volunteering experience or experience of working with disabled people.
The majority of grant recipients were either disability-related or community and welfare organisations, suggesting that Access to Volunteering has not diversified the organisation types involving disabled people in volunteering.
The Fund was unsuccessful in attracting very small organisations (average annual income of under £10,000).
There is evidence that Access to Volunteering created sustainability amongst organisations that received funding. 25 of the 28 organisations spoken to in the evaluation said that they would continue to support disabled volunteers.
Access to Volunteering delivered flexibility by encouraging organisations to apply for funding for a wide range of initiatives specific to their needs and aims.
Access to Volunteering has primarily helped organisations remove logistical barriers, such as poor accessibility and lack of specialist equipment.
There is evidence to suggest that over time, attitudinal barriers, such as lack of understanding of the ability of disabled people to volunteer, have increasingly been removed.
Some funded initiatives implemented highly innovative programmes creating long-term means of overcoming negative attitudes to involving disabled people in volunteering or work, and of encouraging social inclusion.
Access to Volunteering has improved the wellbeing of disabled volunteers, helping them to ‘move on’ to a better quality of life.
Volunteering increased the confidence and sense of self-worth of the volunteers involved, which impacted positively on employability and health outcomes.
Where becoming employable was an aspiration for volunteers, Access to Volunteering developed employability primarily by increasing confidence and providing experience of being in a working environment. 11% of organisations indicated that their volunteers had found employment after taking part in Access to Volunteering.
The select committee’s recommendation to revisit Access to Volunteering is a very welcome and long overdue development. I hope the government heed their call and that any new scheme learns from what went before.
I shall be watching developments with interest.
NB. The evaluation of the A2V pilot is not easy to find. Like so many key documents on volunteering from the last fifteen years, documents that should be available to us all, they seem to have no online home. If you would like a copy of the report please get in touch and I’ll send it to you.
I started drafting this article shortly after reading the report but have held off publishing it until now to allow myself to calm down and reflect on the contents. You see my initial response was mix of anger, disappointment and frustration. Whilst there is some good in the report, much of it is weak and, frankly, poor. So here, tempered by a few days of reflection and re-writing, are my top nine reasons (in no order of importance) for feeling so disappointed by the report.
1 – No mention of family volunteering
Whilst it speaks about the role of government and education providers in encouraging young people to embrace volunteering, the report barely mentions the importance of families. Family volunteering is recognised as great way to instil values of service and volunteerism in young people, yet it doesn’t even warrant a mention. Yet again, an initiative to explore engaging more young people in volunteering places all responsibility on the state.
2 – The role of National Citizens Service (NCS)
I am concerned that the Holiday report places too much emphasis on NCS as a framework for developing full-time volunteering. I worry about the independence of a report commissioned by government that seeks to strengthen the argument for a government scheme, funded in excess of £1billion, and with big questions still to be answered about its efficacy. Whilst I see the sense in not creating yet another new organisation, questions still remain about the effectiveness and value for money of NCS. For example:
A key NCS volunteering metric is that eight million hours of volunteer time have been given. However, nothing is said about the impact that time had and the difference it made to young people and their communities.
Throughout the report there are calls for further evidence before action is taken. Yet this demand for evidence weakens significantly when it comes to discussion as to whether the quality of a volunteer experience is more important than how many people engage in volunteering, and how such time they give.
“Many organisations argue that quality of social action is more important than quantity. However, intuitively, the more a young person engages in voluntary activity, the greater the impact will be – although we need more research to substantiate this belief.”
Basic common sense would argue that if the quality of the experience is not good then it doesn’t matter how many people participate, they will not gain from it as much as they would if they had a great experience. Evidence surely isn’t needed to substantiate this?
Furthermore, I noticed in the call for evidence responses on page fourteen of the report (“What impact does full time social action / volunteering have on young people and providers in comparison to part time social action / volunteering?”) that the arguments for full-time volunteering over part-time volunteering relate to how well designed volunteer roles are (quality) and not how long people spend doing them (quantity).
4 – A missed opportunity regarding volunteering infrastructure
Page six of the report briefly notes the the inadequacy of infrastructure support to help young people engage in volunteering.
Since 2010 funding for volunteering infrastructure in England has been slashed, resulting in the closure of many local Volunteer Centres and, in many, cases a reduced service from those that remain.
It would have been good for an independent report such as this to acknowledge that the impacts of austerity on volunteering infrastructure have had, and will continue to have, long-term and significant effects on support for young people to engage in part- or full-time volunteering.
5 – Recommendation two – is there an echo in here?
“To ensure that social action is accessible to all, we recommend that the Department for Work and Pensions supports Job Coaches, to proactively inform young people who are Universal Credit claimants of their right to reduce their job-seeking hours up to 50 percent to participate in voluntary activities. We also favour extending this right to all benefit claimants and ask that the crucial role of volunteering is better recognised by this department. The Department for Work and Pensions should explore this and report back on implementation plans within 12 months.”
Different words may have been used on this occasion but that’s the same recommendation countless reports have made to the Department for Work and Pensions and it’s predecessors over the last 20 years. Still nothing has changed.
Reading the DWP ‘ statement in the report – which I can only assume is included to show they are responsive – I am struck by their failure to acknowledge that the rules aren’t the problem, it is how individual advisers interpret them. Doing what we have always done will get what we have always got. New thinking is needed to get DWP to change and I see no evidence of that here.
6 – Recommendation four – I’m sorry, what?!
“…the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) should lead an activity with NNVIA, Volunteering Matters, the Association of Volunteer Managers and V-Inspired to develop non-mandatory guidelines specific to 16-25 year olds with support and encouragement from government. This could include of ‘out-of-pocket’ expenses, setting realistic targets, good recruitment and safeguarding processes and reiterating that completion of social action programmes does not guarantee employment. Furthermore, they should develop a plan that encourages charities to operate transparently with young people, and encourage charities to provide better information, advice, guidance and support to young people during their social action journey.”
Whatever this ill defined activity is, this kind of work has been ongoing since Millennium Volunteers was conceived in the late 1990s. Exhibit one, the 1996 book pictured below from the National Centre for Volunteering, based on a year-long research project with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
I can’t help but think that energy directed towards this recommendation will reinvent wheels. Much better would have been a focus on helping Volunteer Managers to create relevant and engaging full-time volunteering opportunities and support them in challenging the institutional barriers many would face in doing this e.g. paid staff feeling threatened that full-time volunteers will take their jobs.
Recommendation four demonstrates a woeful lack of understanding about volunteering and volunteer management, not surprising given no leaders of volunteers were on the inquiry panel.
7 – Recommendation eight – know your history
I was astounded to read this in recommendation eight of the report:
“…FTSA programmes are still in their infancy in the UK…”
Community Service Volunteers, now Volunteering Matters, has been running full-time volunteering programmes since 1962. Something fifty-six years old is hardly in its infancy!
8 – What about the clients?
The report talks extensively about the benefits of full-time volunteering to the volunteers and the organisations that involve them. Not once does it mention any benefit to the clients and beneficiaries of the organisations people volunteer for.
In fact, the only time this ever gets a mention is a point made (I assume by a young person) in the consultation with young people (page 17) which says:
“…full time social action opportunities need to have greater impact, led and developed by the communities they work within.”
Cliched it may be, but volunteers want to make a difference to the lives of others. Missing this element from the discussion of full-time volunteering is a significant omission.
9 – What’s in a word?
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noted I have talked throughout this article about volunteering, not social action. That’s because I am a firm believer that we do not need a new word for volunteering. What we need is to reframe volunteering so it is more relevant for people.
Page fifteen of the report states:
“Social action was a familiar term to 75% of young people, but only half were able to define it”
In other words, whilst they may of heard of it half of young people don’t know what it is. If we are going to have to work hard educating people, why not do so with a term that probably has higher recognition but a bit of an image problem?
Furthermore, on the same page, social action is shown as distinct from volunteering by this statement:
“Social action is distinct from work experience and volunteering. It is about creating lasting social change on big issues that matter to young people and their communities. It can be used to address inequalities, challenge racism, and improve women’s rights. It is often personal to each young person, and that is the biggest motivating factor to getting involved.”
Do volunteers have a place monitoring and securing the UK border? That is the question raised by a new idea under consideration by the UK Government – “Border Force Special Volunteers”.
Border force volunteers?
According to the BBC, who reported this story on 31 December 2017, there are concerns about the UK Border Force’s capacity to cover smaller ports and entry places into the country. An assessment by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, published in July 2017, looked at 62 normally unmanned ports on the east coast and found that Border Force officers had not visited 27 of the sites between April 2015 to June 2016.The report also revealed the number of clandestine migrants detected at the ports had almost doubled in 12 months.
One option under consideration to plug this gap is a scheme similar to the Special Constables, often volunteers who work for Police Forces throughout the UK. The Home Office has said that if it was to introduce volunteers, they would be used to “bolster” Border Force staffing levels and would not be used by Immigration Enforcement.
“Urge great caution before seeking to adopt a model like that used by the police, with special constables. Border security is a skilled job, which takes many years of training.”
There are two things that concern me about this idea which, to stress again, is currently under consideration and not due for immediate implementation.
My first concern
First, I find Mr Elphicke’s remarks astoundingly insulting to volunteers. As a politician, volunteers are essential to Mr Elphicke’s work. They are the ones who knock on doors and beat the streets campaigning for him at election time. He represents a constituency where there is a strong culture of volunteering, where people give of their time to help others and strengthen the community.
Yet Mr Elphicke chooses to caricature volunteers as bumbling, incompetents like those in Dad’s Army. He further suggests that border security is a skilled role and so incompatible with the model used in the Special Constabulary.
I assume the police would disagree with Mr Elphicke’s inference that being a Special Constable is an unskilled role. A quick look at the Kent Police website (Mr Eplhicke’s constituency is in Kent) makes it clear that Specials in the county have to undergo training lasting six to eight months, including 12 days on operational attachments and eight training modules, four of which are two-day weekend sessions. This hardly implies an unskilled role.
My second concern
My second concern is the thinking that developed this idea in the first place. This idea smacks of a ‘volunteers are free / cheap’ mindset.
I’m all for volunteers being involved in significant roles in society. The extent of volunteer involvement in public services in the UK is always vastly underestimated and without volunteer effort many aspects of daily life in the country – such as education, health and social care, coastguard and criminal justice – simply wouldn’t operate in the same way.
Volunteers don’t always complement and supplement paid staff, they can do things paid staff cannot. But I see no evidence of this in the Home Office’s thinking, at least as far as the story about the UK Border Force has been reported. I see no evidence of anyone exploring why volunteers would be the best way to meet the need identified in the July assessment by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.
Here are just two questions I’d like an answer to:
What is it that volunteers would bring to these roles that paid staff can’t?
If the money was there, would paid staff be hired rather than volunteers?
What this story illustrates is a likely lack of intelligent thought behind why volunteers should be involved in roles such as the proposed Border Force teams. Perhaps the Home Office should engage some expert support on volunteering to help them think this through? I wonder who might be able to help 😉
The story also highlights the ignorance of an elected official who most likely spouts platitudes about volunteering in his constituency and his parliamentary work but reveals his apparent ignorance in his remarks on this matter. I suggest Mr Elphicke spends some time with volunteers in his constituency to further his education about the importance of their work to this country.
“An influential committee of MPs has published a highly critical report into the National Citizen Service, and its chair has called on government to carry out a fundamental review before spending any money on the programme.”
Work is required if National Citizen Service is to become a sustainable investment in young people.
The programme “may no longer be justifiable” if it is unable to meet its targets for increasing the number of participants, or achieve its long-term societal aims – both at a cheaper cost per head – noting that the NCS Trust and DCMS cannot justify the “seemingly high” cost per participant.
The Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), which has overall responsibility for NCS, lacks the data to measure long-term outcomes of the programme or understand what works.
The NCS Trust paid providers some £10 million in 2016 for places that were not filled and expresses disappointment at the Trust’s “relaxed attitude about the non-recovery of these funds”.
There were concerns about the transparency and governance of the Trust, and finds it is “unclear” whether the Trust has the skills and experience necessary to oversee growth of the NCS programme.
“We are considering all the recommendations in this report carefully and will work closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and our other partners to deliver them and make NCS a normal part of growing up for young people in our country.”
Despite all this NCS continues apace and received Royal Charter status during the year. I wonder if any other body receiving over £1billion of public money would get away as lightly as NCS seems to have done last year?
(NB – in the interests of fairness it should be noted that coverage of a recent report into the value for money of NCS has suggested the scheme is moving in a positive direction).
Towards the end for 2016, Vicki Sellick, Director of Nesta’s innovation lab, wrote:
”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.”
Well, I have seen no evidence that online and microvolunteering has boomed this year. Personally, I’ve come across just as many volunteer managers in 2017 who face significant challenges in developing their volunteering offers to fit microvolunteering models or embrace online technologies.
As long as organisations continue to underinvest in volunteer engagement this will continue. Leaders of volunteers are largely enthusiastic about utilising technology to innovate and develop the work of volunteers. The problem is they consistently come up against boards and senior managers who don’t understand the modern realities of volunteering and fail to resource this essential work adequately. That, coupled with many organisations practising risk avoidance as they live in fear of technologies they don’t understand, is causing much frustration amongst leaders of volunteers.
All that said, I’d be happy to stand corrected if independent data can be produced to show that online volunteering has boomed in 2017. I think I’ll be waiting for a while though as our most reliable volunteer data, The Community Life Survey, changed methodology recently and so is no longer trackable with data produced since 2001. That and it never asked specifically about online volunteering anyway!
Review into full-time social action
This review, much touted at the start of 2017, finally got underway in September after delays resulting from the Prime Minister calling June’s snap general election.
The call for evidence closed on 13 October and the review panel are analysing the feedback they received. I would anticipate a final report sometime in early 2018.
Until then, I commend to you NCVO’s thoughtful responseto the review’s call for evidence. This sums up many of my own thoughts about the review and I wait with interest to see what recommendations will result from the panels work.
So, there you have it. Three interesting issues during 2017 and what actually happened (or didn’t). What were your volunteering highlights of 2017 and what are you looking forward to in 2018? Share your thoughts below.
Campaigning is now well underway for the UK General Election on 8 June. NCVO have wasted no time in issuing their election manifesto, “Charities and volunteering make Britain great”, and I want to quickly look at four things I was pleased to see them highlight.
1/ An access to volunteering fund
Back when I worked for Volunteering England (2005-2011) we were funded by the Office of Civil Society to pilot an Access to Volunteering Scheme. This provided funding to help organisations meet the costs of opening up their volunteering opportunities to people with disabilities.
Sadly the change of government in 2010 killed off the short-lived pilot. Calls were made for it’s revival ahead of the 2015 general election but went unheeded. So I’m really please to see NCVO officially calling for Access to Volunteering to return.
“Providing a support fund to address barriers to volunteering for people with disabilities. This could make volunteering accessible to more people, helping with costs such as travel or adaptations to buildings or equipment.”
2/ Strengthening volunteer development and management
NCVO have really been upping their game on volunteering over the past few months, starting with Sir Stuart’s new year letter to the sector. These efforts have built upon the excellent work of the small volunteering team at NCVO over recent years, dedicated individuals who have worked hard to support volunteerism.
I am really pleased to see this work continue in the manifesto with a call to strengthen volunteer management. For too long, volunteer management and it’s role in enabling effective and rewarding volunteering experiences has been low profile in civil society’s calls for support from politicians. Putting it front and centre in the NCVO manifesto is a welcome step towards changing this.
“Strengthening volunteer development and management, to ensure volunteers have the right skills and support to make a bigger difference, and a rewarding experience.”
3/ Make it easier for charities and volunteers to support our public services
Volunteering in public services isn’t new. Neither are the controversial issues raised, such as job substitution, the role of the state and the responsibilities of individual citizens.
With public services changing, not least because of the tremendous affects of austerity, it is right that we have a grown up debate about the role of charities and volunteers in public service delivery.
Kudos then to NCVO for being brave enough to put this in their manifesto, emphasising the positive and constructive role volunteers can play in the NHS, social care, emergency services and other services.
My only note of caution comes with their suggestion that volunteer numbers could be increased in public services. More volunteers aren’t always the answer.
“(NCVO would like to ask) services such as the NHS to set targets for the management and development of volunteering. These would aim to increase volunteer numbers, involve volunteers in a wider range of roles, and improve the experience and impact of volunteers.”
Under the heading of “Give everybody a stake in post-Brexit Britain” NCVO rightly highlight the barriers to non-Brits who wish to volunteer whilst in our country.
For those from outside the EU this requires specific permission to volunteer within their visa’s and poorly phrased limitations on those holding student visas. For EU citizens no restrictions exist, but this will surely change after Brexit in March 2019.
NCVO’s call for simple and effective visa requirements, or a visa waiver programme, are to be applauded, as is their request for the next government to quickly resolve the right to stay of EU citizens.
People from the EU have enriched our culture, society and economy. Along with their families, they work and volunteer in our public services, including for charities. We think it right that they should continue to have a stake in the future of country.
So there you have it, my four highlights from NCVO’s 2017 general election manifesto. What do you think? Do you agree with me? Do you think NCVO missed anything? Do you disagree with their manifesto requests? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.
In this article, I want to share my initial thoughts on what the report says about volunteering. I’m not going to focus on the five associated recommendations which I broadly agree with. Rather, I want to highlight some of what I found to be good and bad in the report as well as note a few things that seem to be missing.
Two really positive things struck me in the report.
First, paragraph 300, in which Karl Wilding of NCVO says:
“All the evidence from the volunteer managers we work with tells us that volunteers do not want to replace paid staff in the sense that they do not want to put people out of jobs, but they absolutely recognise that they can contribute something to a service over and above what the paid staff delivering that service do.”
As I have written elsewhere recently, we need to take a more intelligent and measured look at the issues labelled under the broad heading of ‘job substitution’. To have Karl, the volunteering lead at NCVO, take a similar line is very welcome. It shows strong leadership by NCVO on a difficult issue.
Second, I am heartened that the Lords heard evidence suggesting there is a need for a fresh vision and drive behind volunteering (paragraph 303). They quote Matthew Taylor, CEO of the RSA and chair of the Modern Employment Review set up by the Government:
“How we think about a society where being a volunteer has the same status as being an employee, and it is an important part of how people feel they are fulfilled, develop and grow in their lives, is a big opportunity. We still kind of think that the big thing in your life is your work, and you then might do a bit of volunteering on the side. It may be that in 30 years it is reversed.”
To know that some thoughtful and intelligent input into the future direction of volunteering has been considered is encouraging, even if the resulting recommendations are largely more immediate and practical in nature.
As I read the report’s volunteering section I began to sigh at the limited view of volunteering expressed by some of the charities who gave evidence to the Select Committee. Take paragraph 298 for example:
”Visionary argued that that an over-reliance on volunteers risked hindering the growth of a charity. Age UK Runnymede and Spelthorne noted that charities using volunteers to deliver services were at risk, as volunteers could not be compelled to work.”
First, why must volunteers limit the growth of a charity? The vast majority of charities are completely reliant on volunteers and continue to exist and grown quite well without paid staff. Many well established and large charities rely on a mainly volunteer workforce (for example, Samaritans and the National Trust), with paid staff in the minority. Almost every charity grew from an entirely volunteer run organisation.
Second, charities do not use volunteers. Volunteers are people. We do not use people. We use things.
Third, why must services be at risk if delivered through volunteers? Samaritans services are delivered through volunteers. Lifeboat crews are volunteers. Magistrates are volunteers. St John Ambulance provides first aid through volunteers. They all seem to manage OK. Why can’t other services?
Until these patronising and limiting views of volunteers are banished, we will forever limit the potential of volunteering to play it’s full role in transforming society for the better.
Three things struck me as missing from the report.
First, I saw no meaningful consideration of the potential of older people as volunteers. The report, like so much of volunteering, focuses on young people. This youth obsession risks blinding us to the opportunities and challenges of engaging Baby Boomers and Gen Xers as volunteers.
Second, I can find no mention of the importance of local volunteering infrastructure. As I have outlined in another article, local Volunteer Centres are essential for supporting and nurturing effective volunteer involvement. I don’t expect the Lords to lobby for a return to the days when Volunteer Centres were better funded than now, but it would have been good to see their role and importance acknowledged.
Third, there seems to be no acknowledgement of volunteering as a strategic priority for the sector. Writing for Third Sector, the chair of the Select Committee, Baroness Pitkeathly said of the challenges charities face:
“Grant programmes are being reduced or eliminated, and contracts are increasingly prescriptive and short-term, stifling charities’ ability to innovate, cover costs and plan for the future.”
Whilst access to funding is rightly identified as part of the problem, where is the mention of volunteering in this strategic context? One of the unique aspects of charities is their ability to innovate, to experiment and to find new solutions through engaging volunteers. This ability to draw in talent and extend the limited budget in creative ways is a key distinctive between the voluntary sector and the public and private sector. It is how almost all charities started – volunteer effort, trying something new and finding creative solutions. To not acknowledge or encourage this aspect of volunteering is a significant weakness in any work that claims to understand and support the sector.
A final thought
I said earlier that I wasn’t going to look at the report’s recommendations. Sorry, I lied. I want to single out just one, recommendation 28 at paragraph 311:
”Funders need to be more receptive to requests for resources for volunteer managers and co-ordinators, especially where charities are able to demonstrate a strong potential volunteer base. We recommend that Government guidance on public sector grants and contracts is amended to reflect this and set a standard for other funders.”
Whilst on one level is totally agree with this I do have a worry. It’s the same worry I get whenever I see anything that places an emphasis on external funding for volunteer engagement – why do so many organisations seek external funding for volunteer involvement rather than pay for it themselves? I know resources are tight but organisations could choose to prioritise funding for volunteer involvement rather than leave this to the vagaries of external funders. Failing to do so indicates just how little importance those organisation place on their volunteers.
Over to you
Those are my thoughts on the good, the bad and the missing from the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities, at least as it relates to volunteering. Now it’s over to you. What do you think? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.
Back in 2010 the UK’s general election resulted in a coalition government that brought in widespread funding cuts. Volunteering infrastructure was amongst the early victims as financial belts tightened.
Despite forming in 2004, Volunteering England (VE) ceased to be in 2013, merging into NCVO. Volunteer Centres closed as local government funding dried up. Some merged into other bodies like Councils for Voluntary Service, others just disappeared altogether. And the closures continue to this day as the cuts continue and deepen.
It’s still too early to tell what the long-term consequences of these changes will be for volunteerism in England. We’ve already lost a huge amount of knowledge about what was done before the age of austerity began. The Commission on the Future of Volunteering, the outputs from the ChangeUp National volunteering Hub and subsequent Modernising Volunteering National Support Service – all are consigned to the memories of those who were there. Any online presence can be hard to find, if it even exists anymore.
We’ve also lost the means to deliver any new ‘national’ volunteering initiative, a point conceded by a Cabinet Office official last year when he remarked that if the (now forgotten?) ‘three-day volunteering pledge’ was to happen we’d need a local volunteering infrastructure to deliver it.
So I am both saddened and angry to see a similar situation unfolding in Australia.
Earlier this year the Australian federal Government’s Department of Social Services announced changes to the funding pot for Volunteer Resource Centres (VRCs) that could have a devastating effect. You can read all about the situation in this excellent article from Pro Bono Australia.
Efforts are underway to work with the Australian Government to review their decision and take a different approach. Volunteering Australia, state and territory peak bodies and local VRCs are mobilising to protect the future of volunteering support services. My sincere hope is that they succeed and do not see a repeat of what has happened here in England over the last few years.
I’ll leave the last word to Alison Lai, the CEO of Volunteering Tasmania. Read her excellent article about the likely impact of the cuts in Australia here.