Posts Tagged: volunteering

Where are all the interesting volunteering roles?

As the New Year rolled in, I did my usual routine of trying to come up with some resolutions, only this year I was determined to think of some I might actually keep.

I discarded the usual ‘eat less cake’ and ‘exercise more’ and looked instead towards ‘volunteer’. Read more on Where are all the interesting volunteering roles?…

Ditching extra insurance premiums for volunteer drivers was long overdue

There was a certain amount of backslapping this week when
the Association of British Insurers announced that 54 insurance brands would
no longer be charging extra premiums for people who use their cars for
voluntary activities, such as taking people to hospital or on days out.

Read more on Ditching extra insurance premiums for volunteer drivers was long overdue…

MP Chris Chope’s bill for volunteers shows how difficult reforms of CRB checks will be

Conservative MP Chris Chope has tabled a
private member’s bill that he thinks will solve the problem of potential
volunteers being deterred by the prospect of waiting for a criminal records
check.

Read more on MP Chris Chope’s bill for volunteers shows how difficult reforms of CRB checks will be…

Ditching a bad piece of law

In last week’s New Statesman, the magazine’s political editor, Mehdi Hasan, coined the ideal phrase for one of the least pleasant tendencies of the last government.

He wrote that the former immigration minister Phil Woolas, stripped of his parliamentary seat after an electoral court found that he told race-related lies about his Lib Dem opponent, embodied “the cynical, authoritarian populism of New Labour.”

Read more on Ditching a bad piece of law…

‘Compulsory volunteering’ should be embraced by the voluntary sector

Many volunteering charities will, no doubt, recoil in horror at the prospect of compulsory community-based voluntary work for unemployed people.

The idea is part of the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s plan for welfare reform that will be announced in more detail this week. Under the plans, some jobseekers would be told to carry out four weeks of compulsory unpaid work, and could lose their benefits if they refused.

Charities and voluntary groups, as well as private firms, will be encouraged to bid to deliver the scheme.

The familiar (and quite reasonable) cry of, “if it’s compulsory, it’s not volunteering!” must be ringing out across their offices.

But charities need to move past this instinctive response. Helping people back into work is exactly the sort of area this government wants charities to play a bigger role in, and “compulsory volunteering” – call it community service or unpaid work if you’d rather – is how ministers are going about it.

Many in the voluntary sector believe passionately that they can do this work better than the private sector. Yes, there will be practical difficulties and yes, the principle might be awkward.

But if it turned its back on the policy, the voluntary sector would do a great disservice to those in need of its support.

Read more on ‘Compulsory volunteering’ should be embraced by the voluntary sector…

Corporates: charities want decorating with cash instead of paint

There was a very loud groan from a room full of fundraisers at a recent conference when they were asked whether any corporates had offered to paint some walls for them recently.

They rolled their eyes as they grumbled that they didn’t have any walls left to paint, explaining that this was one of the main offers of support they were repetitively receiving from companies wishing to engage in corporate social responsibility.

When it comes to corporate-charity partnerships and CSR, it seems that there has been a slow but steady shift away from companies raising vital funds for charities to instead offering them help with, often unnecessary, tasks.

I think it’s time for corporates to take a step back and remember the reason they are supposed to be engaging with charities. It should not be to make themselves feel better as individuals or to improve their image as companies in some way.

It should be borne out of a genuine desire to help a charity better serve its beneficiaries.

And if charities say that the best way to help them do this is by giving them money, then this is the kind of support corporates should be striving to offer.

I realise the argument against this is that in the wake of the recession companies find it harder to raise the levels of funds they used to donate to charities.

Perhaps instead then they should be calculating the cost of their very expensive staff spending an entire day out of the office painting a wall and just give this to the charity.

Even half a day’s wages would probably add up to a lot when it comes to the kind of money bankers or lawyers or consultants are paid.

Obviously, the offer of volunteering where it is needed, especially when it utilises a very specialist skill that the volunteer has to offer, in conjunction with fundraising is to be applauded.

It is just where corporates seem to think it is satisfactory to replace large amounts, or even the whole of their fundraising efforts with volunteering that I think a real problem is occurring.

If charities want and need cash, then perhaps that’s what they should be given. A lawyer or a banker using ‘charity work’ as an excuse to go off on a jolly for the day just isn’t going to cut it, even if it does give the volunteer involved a warm sense of self-satisfaction.

Read more on Corporates: charities want decorating with cash instead of paint…

Is volunteering too much hard work for charities?

Two weeks ago, at a round table hosted by the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving, I listened to a group of people working in the charity sector talking about the difficulties they faced using professional volunteers.

Read more on Is volunteering too much hard work for charities?…

Should we be putting financial value on volunteering?

On Monday, the front page of the Guardian carried a story about a scheme being proposed in Windsor & Maidenhead where new volunteers get Nectar Points in exchange for carrying out good works: hold a tea party for pensioners, get money off at Argos.

Read more on Should we be putting financial value on volunteering?…

Trick or treat in the big society

Like many people, I imagine, I spent lot of yesterday evening answering the door to children in a variety of hideous costumes squealing ‘”trick or treat?” Unlike in previous years, I had anticipated it and spent a fiver at the local shops on an assortment of tooth-rotting gunge to hand out as insurance against getting the front door splattered with raw egg, or worse.

Read more on Trick or treat in the big society…

Volunteers were the heroes of the London tube strike: London Zoo could do better

I was very impressed by the work of volunteers during the tube strike in London yesterday.

I set off on my morning commute expecting chaos. But at both Victoria and Earl’s Court stations, there were plenty of cheery, easy-to-find, orange vest-clad Transport for London volunteers advising travellers how to reach their destinations.

I didn’t have to wait long to speak to one, and neither did the other commuters, none of whom seemed stressed. Perhaps the strike triggered good old-fashioned British stoicism. But the volunteers definitely played their part in keeping what could have been a reputational disaster for TFL under control.

But volunteers don’t always work wonders for the reputations of companies and charities. A few weeks ago, I went to the London Zoo’s Zoo Lates event, at which hundreds of people spent the evening drinking Pimm’s, eating burgers and wandering around the animal enclosures – a brilliant fundraising event for the zoo.

As my friend and I strolled through the monkey enclosure, we noticed an over-zealous volunteer marshalling the crowds.

“Stand back from that tree!” she shouted at one couple. “It’s the monkey’s space!” Another group of visitors was told off for spending too long looking at some baby monkeys.

The response was interesting. “Ignore her,” one visitor said. “She’s only a volunteer and she’s getting hung up on her own power.”

The zoo volunteer was obviously not working the wonders for the zoo’s reputation that the Tube volunteers were working for TFL’s. My instinctive reaction was that it came down to volunteer management – shouldn’t organisations vet their volunteers properly before they let them speak directly to the public on their behalf?

But perhaps that would undermine the point of volunteering. Volunteers aren’t one-size-fits-all and they can’t be vetted and controlled in the way paid staff can. They enjoy making their own mark, and if they weren’t enjoying it they wouldn’t do it.

So perhaps charities – and other organisations that use volunteers – need to accept that alongside a reputational bonus, hiring volunteers involves a big reputational risk.

Read more on Volunteers were the heroes of the London tube strike: London Zoo could do better…