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Why the Tories should keep their volunteering pledge

It looks increasingly likely that the Conservatives will ditch their pre-election pledge to allow staff in larger companies and the public sector to take three days of paid volunteering leave.

The Financial Times earlier month ran story in which it was claimed that pledge was being “quietly shelved, to the relief of some business leaders”. Then last week, Andrew Pierce, consultant editor of the Daily Mail, told the  NCVO’s Evolve conference that the proposal would be scuppered by Conservative backbenchers.

Senior fundraisers in the charity sector have also expressed doubts about the viability and potential cost of providing volunteering opportunities to the estimated 15 million workers who would be entitled to take volunteering leave.

But spare a thought for the smaller charities for whom this policy could prove a boon. Out of almost 165,000 charities registered with the Charity Commission, around 126,000 have an income of less £100,000 a year. Many of these charities are local, such as Scout groups and pre-schools that would without a doubt welcome any form of help – even the offer to add a lick of badly painted colour to their walls.

Many such charities increasingly rely on time-pressured supporters to volunteer to help with fundraising events and offer basic admin support. The offer of three days’ volunteering leave would no doubt allow these committed individuals to give even more. It could also help with the perennial problem of recruiting trustees – too often finding trustees for small charities can be akin to pulling teeth.

Our communities are awash with people who have useful skills to offer charities, but who currently have little free time to give. From accountants to solicitors to, dare I say, trained painters and decorators, more would no doubt offer their time to charities if they received those promised three days’ volunteering leave.

With the right support, smaller charities could benefit hugely from the proposal – that’s if it ever sees the light of day.

Andy Hillier is the managing editor of Third Sector

  • The Abbeyfield Society

    We share Andy Hillier’s concerns about the possibility that the Government may be going lukewarm on its manifesto pledge to make volunteering a workplace entitlement.

    This wouldn’t just hit charities like the one I represent where volunteering is part of its DNA, it would be bad news for big business and the public sector that would benefit hugely from allowing their employees to do voluntary work for up to three days a year.

    Instead of thinking of volunteering as a drain on business, people need to recognise that getting involved in a forward thinking charity offers a new and valuable perspective to people who are otherwise bolted into the corporate world. At its best, volunteering adds value to companies by generating new ideas and perspectives.

    The Conservatives volunteering pledge is a win all round and as such I urge the Minister for Civil Society and his team to get on with ensuring this volunteering pledge becomes reality.

    Natasha Singarayer
    Chief Executive, The Abbeyfield Society

  • Rob Jackson

    Whether they keep the proposal or not, the fundamental issue has not been addressed: how will charities develop their capacity to engage such new volunteers in their work?

    People with three days to give want clear, interesting, impactful, sociable volunteering opportunities that can be completed in short amounts of time. Most modern volunteers want this in fact, at least initially.

    Charities mainly want to hook people in for the long haul, failing to understand how the world around them has changed and what this means for volunteering. As Gillian Guy pointed out in her article for Third Sector earlier this week.

    Whether the Tory proposal sees the light of day or not, a key point needs to be made – charities must invest in effective volunteer engagement and not just consider it as an afterthought at the end of the planning process.