16 January 2007
Response to Conservative Shadow Cabinet Minister Cheryl Gillan’s speech to the Social Justice Policy Group: From Labour's selfish society to Conservative social responsibility, 16 January 2007.
Volunteering England supports the concept Cheryl Gillian raises of encouraging citizen volunteers to help decide the form public spending should take (such as through consultation groups at national and local level). Any discussion that leads to greater recognition of volunteers and engagement in public policy is to be welcomed.
However, support in the form of “volunteering vouchers” would risk reducing an otherwise interesting concept to a popularity contest. A “Pop Idol” approach to funding would threaten the entire nature of volunteering and the voluntary sector.
Linking funding to volunteer numbers reflects a deep misunderstanding of volunteering and the voluntary sector. The number of volunteers an organisation involves is in no way a reflection of the worth of an organisation. Some organisations need to involve a large number of volunteers to carry out their work. Others very few. There is no logical reason for the latter to be punished by reduced funding. The same applies with roles that are by their nature harder to fill. Some roles, client groups or causes are always likely to be more challenging or less fashionable than others.
People do not select a volunteer role simply on the basis of how much they like the organisation. They look for roles that suit their needs, whether this be as a stepping stone towards employment, because it will be fun, or because it happens to fit in with the time they have to offer.
Larger organisations would always be at an advantage, as they have the resources to maintain a high public profile and advertise widely for volunteers.
A “bums on seats”/ number driven model for funding would surely lead to a temptation for organisations to create volunteer roles where none are needed, wasting peoples’ time and devaluing volunteering. Even without this there would be pressure to accept all offers of voluntary help, even where the potential volunteer would be better off with another organisation, or in training or education.