Volunteer Centres 'Cushion of Comfort' to the public

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By HelpFromHome on
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As part of Help From Home’s effort to promote awareness of the microvolunteering concept, we’ve contacted loads of Volunteer Centres to enquire whether we could be included on their database. We’re please to say that we have over 60 Volunteer Centres who have promoted our work on either a one off or an ongoing basis.

As part of the process with Volunteer Centres, we’ve had to complete their organisation registration forms. We’ve also been asked on numerous occasions how we vet the microvolunteering opportunities on our database. We publicity display the criteria we use on our website here.

I’d like to reverse the tables and ask how Volunteer Centres vet the organisations on their ‘books’. Not once have I been asked to prove the legitimacy of Help From Home or to pass on our public liability insurance certificate.

I’m aware there is an onus on volunteers to be satisfied that an organisation is legit, but from the apparent lack of questions asked of Help From Home from Volunteer Centres or wanting to see any evidence of our insurance certificate, I’m intrigued as to what 'cushion of comfort' Volunteer Centres use to protect the public from rogue organisations.

Is there a ‘digging out’ of an organisations background by going behind the scenes or is it just taken at face value that the information that an organisation completes on a VC registration form is legit and kosher?

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Top answer

From my VC's point of view, we have one significant vetting process to ensure that organisations are suitable: no organisation can register with us unless they provide us with a copy of their Personal Accident insurance and Public Liability insurance that we then keep on file. I'm aware that other VCs ask for proof of not-for-profit/charitable status, to ensure volunteers aren't being involved in private sector organisations.

While this doesn't guarantee a standard of Volunteer Management, it does protect volunteers in the worse case scenario (they won't be considered liable for damage). We have other ways of vetting as well, such as not advertising a role that that is only discriminatory, and not advertising a volunteer role at an organisaiton until we recieve a written position description (even if it's just a few bullet points on our standard form).

The debate about the role of VCs in vetting organisaitons (and volunteers) is one thing, but I think this issue is down to communication: whether or not there is an expectation that orgs/vols are vetted depends entirely on what the VC has said.

Your second paragragh about VCs trying to encourage orgs to keep in touch with VCs does actually work in practice. I am contacted every now and again by different VCs to see whether Help From Home's opps are still available. But that's all they ask. At no point do they ask me anything else and I believe they should be.

One thing I do find strange is that VCs are quite happy to quiz me on the vetting procedures HFH adopts (and probably quite understandably so, seeing as microvolunteering opps are not your run of the mill trad opportunities). As mentioned in my post these are publicly displayed. However, I believe I'm correct in saying that most VCs don't publicly display their vetting procedures to establish an orgs legitimacy, which from a potential volunteers point of view would go some way to providing that 'cushion of comfort'.

That being said, I believe that the public has a perceived confidence that VCs are actually vetting orgs and from my experience that doesn't appear to be the case, as they don't seem to be going beyond just taking at face value what's written on a VC registration form. So, are VCs opening themselves up to legal action if an org was found to be a rogue one and a VC recommended that org to a potential volunteer? What due diligence is in place to prevent that from happening? I can see your VC is being pro-active about it, but I'm not sure that others are. Just a thought.

I think you raise a really interesting question - one which as a Good Practice worker, I in fact asked a lot myself when I first joined the sector almost 10 years ago. From a VC perspective - what I can confirm in our own case is that we tend to take the stance that the public are free to select whichever organisation they choose to volunteer with, regardless of whether they gain that information from ourselves or whether they find out about it elsewhere. However, as Jamie quite rightly points out - this is where the significance of building relationships and recommendation really come into play.
As a VC, we would only recommend an organisation where we know they operate with Good Practice principles. Part of the support work we do involves encouraging them to attend training, to keep us informed of changes and developments to their opportunities, to feedback to us about our service, the volunteers referred there etc. All this enables us to be in a better position to make a recommendation with confidence to a potential volunteer.
I think the other interesting point that this question highlights is the role of Volunteer Centres -which I know is attached to another ongoing debate. But, perhaps there is an expectation from the public - more so now, than there would have been 10 years ago, that the VC might carry out some sort of 'vetting', so it's important to be clear about this. Also, as many VCs face threat of closure and with practically no way of directly funding the traditional 'brokerage' service, this might not be seen as a priority by many. (Although - of course there are many different ways to deliver these services which don't necessarily require specific funding).
Our VC is about to start work to develop a 'Kitemark' scheme in conjunction with the local authority. We are keen for it not to simply turn into a check box exercise to see whether organisations have policies in place. For me this should be a no-brainer, although it's staggering how many organisations still operate from a 'cut and paste from the paid staff handbook' basis when it comes to these things. We want to develop something that is not just about meeting a benchmark - but which is aspirational and will encourage organisations to really think about volunteer-involvement on different levels. Hopefully, in the longer term, this will enable potential volunteers to be able to make an even more informed choice and will provide the team here at the VC with what they need to continue to develop those relationships with organisations and make positive recommendations.

Hi Mike, a very valid point. I would go further and say that in an era of social networking, where there are so many people getting involved, vetting becomes a major issue. On i-volunteer we don't vet any of the organisations or members, instead relying on the community to highlight problems and making sure members play safe when connecting.

Be interesting to see what response you get from VCs, though there are not that many on this network. Your point reminds me of the NCVO Consultants Register, where consultants pay to join a list and the vetting seems to be no more than filling in a form - not the best assurance for someone looking for help. Far better to have recommendations, which is why LinkedIn is so much more effective. I think there is definite scope to have ivo members rated by volunteers :o)

Ps sent you an email re testing, hope you got it ok.