We regularly feature blogs by Sarah Taragon and Steve Woollett of Clarity CIC and philanthropy advisor and author Emma Beeston of the Emma Beeston Consultancy. The insightful and astute blogs pick up on issues that are presently relevant to the not-for-profit sector.
Today’s blog is by Steve Woollett of Clarity CIC, in which he considers the challenging scenario emerging around volunteering following the coronavirus pandemic.
Any thoughts on Steve’s blog are very welcome. Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass them on to Clarity CIC.
“I am working with an organisation doing great work supporting mainly older people by running coffee mornings, lunch clubs, support groups, at home visiting and befriending and a community transport service. All of this activity depends entirely on dedicated volunteers, with the organisation managed and administered by a very small staff team and on a minimal budget. Volunteers are the lifeblood of this organisation – without them the activities they run which are so important to those who take part, often the only social contact they have with other people and the only time they get out the house, would simply not exist. A familiar story I suspect for many community-based charitable organisations.
“However, the thing that worries me is where the new cohort of volunteers will come from. Most of the volunteers I have met in this organisation are themselves pretty elderly. One who is running, with a huge amount of professionalism, skill and sensitivity, a support group for especially vulnerable and troubled people is well into her eighties. Many of the others I have met readily admit that they are not far off becoming service users themselves. The newly retired, always a valuable source of volunteers, now often find themselves looking after grandchildren; some finding it difficult to find time for themselves let alone to help others. And of course there will be those that need to continue to earn an income well beyond the point they “retire” or become entitled to a pension – an even greater pressure now given the cost of living. Others have priorities that mean they are not consistently available – as one charity manager told me, some better off retirees can’t commit to volunteering in the summer months because they “take off for extended holidays in their motor home”.
“The Time Well Spent 2023 report from National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), found that the number of volunteers organising or helping to run an activity has fallen by 52% since 2018. And Charities Aid Foundation’s (CAF) research found that only 13% of people said they volunteered in the last year, compared with 17% pre-pandemic, representing about 1.6 million fewer people volunteering over the past five years.
“Unfortunately I don’t have any obvious “solutions” to what may be becoming a volunteer recruitment crisis. But I do think that for many charity trustees, how to maintain and diversify their volunteer workforce must now be a very high priority. They will need to think creatively about how to engage people who do have time but who traditionally have not seen themselves as volunteers. This might include thinking about involving younger people and providing volunteering as part of their career development – providing great opportunities to build experience and access training. Perhaps also there is scope to recruit those who are working but now doing four days a week. And maybe the greater flexibility around working from home makes it a bit easier for some people to devote part of their working week to voluntary activity.
“This also puts the spotlight on charities making sure they genuinely and openly thank their volunteers and celebrate their work – as well as enabling them to contribute their ideas and thoughts about how the organisation is run and what else they might be doing. Organisations could be better at drawing on the experience and expertise of volunteers at a management and strategic level – not “just” in delivering services.”
Clarity CIC enables social purpose organisations, including community groups, charities and social enterprises, to be effective, sustainable and well-run. It helps organisations solve everyday problems, build their own capability, think and act strategically and demonstrate the value of their work.