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Volunteering schmolunteering - does the word volunteering actually matter?

Leonie Lewis, JVN DirectorLeonie Lewis, JVN Director

Well it’s been a busy few weeks for volunteering.  From the Jubilee to the Olympics it seems everyone is asking for volunteers – including us! But big events aside, we all know the volunteering sector is under strain. Volunteering England reported that local government funding for Volunteer Centres has dropped by 12% despite a big rise in demand for services, bearing out what we said in a previous blog: Big Society seems to be more about commmunity groups and individuals delivering services than supporting charitable organisations.

NAVCA recently did a fantastic analysis of the changing volunteering landscape, with the full paper looking at pretty much everything volunteering from the Government Work Programme to the National Citizens Service for 16-year olds via Employee volunteering and volunteering for Orange RockCorps - we've found it a fascinating piece of work.

So I was interested to see an ivo blog  taking a bit of an issue(!) with NAVCA’s allegedly relaxed approach to what volunteering actually is,  specifically: “Our default response to new “volunteering” initiatives will not be semantic debate about whether they are volunteering or not”.  The blogger John wrote:

Social action and volunteering aren’t interchangeable terms. Social action, to me, is a specific, often organic, way of getting involved without the structural, processed support of organisations. I do not see it is as volunteering. And I rather think most social activists do not see themselves as volunteers.

We’ve written about this before, noting that our French volunteering colleagues were very precise separating out an social activism – militantisme - from volunteering – bénévolat. What we didn’t mention is that volunteering is also itself separated out between bénévoles and volontaires – the first entirely unpaid on an ongoing basis, and the latter with expenses paid, often full time and under a contract. Vive La France indeed!!

Back here at ivo, I’m proud to say that we English are proving that we’re also up for a spirited debate about the importance of definitions!  The comments are absolutely fascinating. JVN certainly doesn't have the answer to the debate. Far greater minds than us have attempted to do it before, so our answer would be -  it’s very complicated but all good.  What we can say is that JVN exists to find people – volunteers, activists, whatever you want to call them! - for not-for-profit organisations making a positive change in the world. And you can’t argue with that!

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We agree, language is irrelevant really, it's what you do that counts!

23rd Apr '12 at 17:09