What should Volunteering England do?

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By johnr on
Big Society, everything volunteering, ttvolmgrs, volunteer centres and volunteer management 221 views 0 likes 8 comments

Following the discussion about the merger and Sue Jones’ various tweets, Volunteering England last week asked how they should they be advocating for and supporting volunteer managers.

For those of you who have read some of my recent blogs you'll know this is a cause dear to my heart. I was involved in setting up AVM (although am no longer involved except as a member) and for me the fundamental reasons for doing so were that:

  • the vast majority of volunteer managers were incredibly isolated with little support
  • power and influence comes largely from collective numbers
  • if we won’t help ourselves then why should we expect others to do so

I think there is much for us to discuss in how we develop volunteer management – off the top of my head I can think of professionalisation, accreditation, career pathways, salary parity to name but a few. But there remains the big one, the one we still struggle with. Acceptance.

Acceptance that volunteer management is a ‘proper’ role.

Acceptance that volunteer management is a necessary role.

Because too often it seems to be considered a luxury when times are good, and something easily sliced off when times are bad.

And this is where Volunteering England come in. Yes, they could do lots of great things around professionalisation, accreditation etc but as Rob Woolley pointed out in one of my earlier blogs, these are truly meaty issues. Is that what we want them to spend their valuable time and resources on?

So what should they do? As a starting point, mine is a simple wish list.

  1. Develop an evidence-based policy position on volunteer management. Many organisations still believe volunteering just happens, and to an extent it does. But where is the evidence to show that good volunteer management leads to more effective volunteering with better outcomes for both volunteers and clients? I did a round-up of some of the evidence at the time for “Funding Guidance for Volunteer Management” – the evidence needs to be updated and VE produce a VM version of “Volunteering Works” that VE and IVR did in 2007. An evidence-base would be invaluable for those at the sharp end who are having to justify their roles in the face of funding cuts.
  2. Respond to all consultations with a statement about VM. Too often in the past we’ve all parroted the ‘volunteering-is-freely-given-but-not-cost-free’ phrase. I think that needs to be elaborated on to explain what it means. (And to be fair VE did that in their response to BLF’s ‘Building capabilities discussion paper)
  3. Really push on developing the narrative with key stakeholders – NCVO, ACEVO, funders, commissioners, CIPD – about volunteer management. I feel like I’m banging on about this constantly but get them to push the VM message to their members and ask funders and commissioners to look at how volunteering initiatives are being managed and whether the budget properly supports the management of it.

The value of having an organisation like VE is that it can do the campaigning and influencing role that we can’t currently do by ourselves.

Never forget that when we talk about volunteer management what we are really talking about is respecting our volunteers sufficiently to properly invest in their effectiveness, their development and their safety.

That’s what I want – what about you?

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Top answer

Thanks to everyone who commented and added some other thoughts. To take this forward I've contacted VE about it (although I know they're on here and read it anyway) and what VE/England Volunteering Development Council can do.

totally agree John (and with the comments made by others)...I think consistent linking of volunteering with volunteer management is much needed, as is support for VMs to influence stakeholders. I know that there was some work on this through the Capacity Builders Value Volunteer Mgt campaign, but I'd like to see it integrated into all VE's messages. I also think there needs to be more "bottom up" engagement with volunteer managers by VE - facilitating discussion and input from people who are doing the job. There often doesn't seem to be much of this dialogue and interaction (although I may have missed something!).

What should VE do? All of the above but, crucially, inspire VMs to action and help direct and support that action. Too often VE's constituents (VCs, VMs, VIOs etc.) sit here and say 'what are you going to do' when the right question is 'what can we all do together'?

Emma Corrigan

totally agree Rob - I'm not expecting it to be done for me! But - I don't know how I need to shout and where and when. That's the kind of help I really need.

A few big ones out of this for me:

- "evidence based" is the foundation of all of this. Enough with the "just because volunteers are nice" argument, lets get something robust and reviewed to link in with all the other work about the value of volunteering
- With so much uncertainty about what volunteering will look like under this government, does VE have bigger, more fundamental issues to address? Does demanding '10% of the local authority project funding amount to be devoted to volunteer management' come second to 'Job Centre Plus schemes are eroding the definition and value of volunteering' for the time being? Or is it an opportunity to get something like a VM accreditation embedded under a 'new age' of funding?
- Still not sure about the delivery of something so rigid. VCQA wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms (most of the time), and I feel like for all the high-level discussions and face-time to get VM up the agenda, there'd still be blank faces and averted eyes when "who's going to actually make this happen on the ground?" is asked.
- How does it fit in with the Big Society principles?
- If acceptance of volunteer management as a profession is about a cultural change, how on earth do we or VE even begin about doing that?

Although it's still muddy (still more question marks than exclamation marks), you're doing a good job of convincing me Mr Ramsey: now all that needs to happen is this needs to be printed out and delivered in a large brown envelope to VE.

not to sound like a lazy answer - but DITTO!
Sadly as volunteering doesn't generate it's own income (I'm talking actual,physical. literal wads of cash in someone's sweaty palms) - it's always going to be sliced off the budget in times of need.

Comments on policy, national stances and research in to the many, many valuable impacts of volunteering will be a way to turn heads and provoke a change of perspective.


Even lazier: *like*

Anne Layzell, freelance

"Acceptance that volunteer management is a ‘proper’ role.
Acceptance that volunteer management is a necessary role.
Because too often it seems to be considered a luxury when times are good, and something easily sliced off when times are bad."
It struck me that this is exactly how Human Resources used to be viewed. Nowadays, the fear of transgressing complex and wide ranging employment law, and exposing one's organisation to risk is a strong driver for having HR practitioners on board.
So perhaps an add-on to positive evidence is pointing out the organisational risk involved in having poorly managed volunteers eg danger to vulnerable clients, dissatisfied ex volunteers, organisational reputation, diminished diversity in workforce and so forth. Scare tactics, maybe, but genuine none the less.