What I want to explore today is how the nature of volunteer involvement and the role of volunteer managers is changing in the context of economic downturn.
My name's Laura and I manage volunteers for George House Trust, a medium sized HIV charity in the North West. Over the last 3 years we've been fearing - and feeling - the impact of cuts to the sector. In 2010-11 we experienced a 20% reduction in statutory funding. We're not alone. The Charity Commission reported the loss of 1600 registered charities in 2010-11, whilst charitable donations are now worth £900 million less in real terms than the amount given four years earlier (UK Giving 2011). Meanwhile, NCVO estimates the sector will lose more than a billion pounds in public funding per year over the next four years. They suggest the impact of this will be felt most in areas of higher deprivation.
In the last decade, the UK voluntary sector's paid workforce increased by a staggering 40%. At the same time, volunteer numbers have remained fairly static. NCVO found that 57% of paid staff in the sector were in health and social care organisations. What this says to me is that most organisations have grown their frontline service provision through paid staff recruitment, rather than volunteer involvement. I think this leaves a vulnerable legacy, as organisations no longer have the same income level for paid staff, face increased demand on services and potentially lack experience of volunteer involvement and management.
I could go on (and on!) painting a picture of doom and I'm sure that many of you will have already directly experienced the impact of cuts on organisations and services in your area. But today I’m asking if - and how – volunteer involvement and volunteer management is changing, in response to the age of austerity. There are clear links to some of the recent debates about job substitution, and the tax on philanthropic giving here on i-volunteer and I'm interested to hear other volunteer managers’ experiences, during financially difficult times.
The last two years have been among the most mixed and challenging of my career. There's been increased workload, ongoing uncertainty, departure of valued colleagues and a rapidly changing external environment to contend with. But at the same time there has been an incredibly positive organisational response in terms of volunteering. Volunteers are viewed as central to how our organisation survives, and thrives during the recession and this has shifted the way that paid staff and volunteers work together and the variety of roles that volunteers are involved in.
One of the new roles we have introduced at George House Trust involves training and matching an “advice support volunteer” to each paid services adviser within our frontline team. A key task that these volunteers help with is writing financial applications for HIV positive people living in poverty. The result: a £32,000 increase in the amount of respite and hardship grants for individuals from external agencies. The volunteers themselves have been able to complete an NVQ in Advice & Guidance; greatly improving their skills and employability.
Another project has trained volunteers as peer researchers. Volunteers conduct one to one interviews with service users and help us capture personal outcomes experienced, as a result of accessing our services. Over the next 12 months we hope to build an outcomes evidence base for the support we provide to people living with HIV. We’ve also involved more specialist volunteers this year; undertaking a major re-branding and website re-design project and creating an e-learning system. We’ve developed an intensive summer volunteering placement in event organisation and worked with an employer supported volunteer programme to purchase and pack food parcels for those most in need.
It's been hard work and has involved much more collaborative working across the organisation, and a greater allocation of frontline service staff's time to volunteer management. We’ve had to invest time in consulting and involving staff in planning new volunteer roles and provided more intensive training in volunteer management. We're also having to make changes to how we advertise and fill opportunities and are trying to be more realistic about the length of time we can retain volunteers for. An ongoing challenge is how we can make the best possible use of volunteer skills and talents and tap the energy of those who want very short term involvement, without additional volunteer management capacity. These are areas where we still have work to do.
As I say, the organisations we work for are facing extremely challenging times. I think volunteer managers have a crucial role to play in shaping the future and ensuring the survival of organisations and services. In the age of austerity, we can't afford to stand still and watch from the sidelines.
So here are my three questions for volunteer managers:
You can share your thoughts by posting a comment, or tweet using the hashtag #ttvolmgrs
Looking forward to hearing your views and experiences!
To read recent writing related to this issue try: