Wednesday, 9 February 2011


I do around nine to twelve hours voluntary work every week and one of the things I've noticed over the past two years has been a significant decline in the number of volunteers. I wasn't sure why until recently.

Put simply, a volunteer is someone who gives up their time, often with expenses completely unpaid and often using their own tools. Yet I'm seeing a sea change in voluntary work locally that has led to a shrinkage in the numbers of people giving up their time for good causes. It's got to the point where even the local branch of the Red Cross has been struggling to keep volunteers.

The problem as I see it is the increasing 'professionalisation' of the voluntary sector. The increase in paperwork necessary for prospective volunteers has gone from a single sheet waiver and CRB check, to a number of quite heavyweight legal documents, reference checks, and more in depth Criminal Record Bureau checks. In short, it's becoming more of an effort to volunteer. This puts a proportion of people off.

The skill levels required of volunteers are also increasing. Where once professional qualifications were not required, now they are being increasingly demanded by non-profits because their public liability insurance demands it. A transformation is occurring where volunteers are becoming more like unpaid part time workers. Again, this is another demotivating factor.

No one has yet suggested that volunteers clock in and out, but I think with the current crop of new management moving into relatively well paid Executive posts at National level, it's only a matter of time. These guys are coming in with brand new shiny university degrees in their hot little hands, and don't really understand what makes a volunteer tick. I've met a few, and while their enthusiasm can be infectious, the whole pep rally thing kind of palls after a while. Especially when there's another form to sign. It's more intense, and makes for a slightly less friendly environment, which is one of the reasons people volunteer.

This transformation in voluntary work may prove the last straw for many people who volunteer, as while respective charities need them more and more, there will be fewer people willing to jump through the extra hoops to provide the help said charities provide.

If this is the model for Cameron's 'big society', they need to stop and very carefully think it through again.

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