Saturday, 18 January 2014

Compulsory Volunteering?

See for a campaigning site including a link to a relevant Freedom of Information request. The FOI request is fairly technical but the answer may be interesting.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Volunteering on Benefits

I hear some pretty odd stories abou the Jobcentre experiences of people on benefits who consider volunteering or are maybe evcen coerced into "compulsory volunteering". Before I say more, I'd like to hear from you so please take a survey Thanks!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Are animal charities losing their appeal?

Some time ago, I commented on the Waitrose "Community Matters" scheme that effectively allows customers to vote from a choice of three causes to receive a donation.

A couple of days ago, I checked out the "vote" a the local store; the options were:

  • RSPCA - an animal charity
  • A local metal health day centre
  • Stroud Refuge
Intrigued by what I saw, I invited my friends on Facebook to guess which was the most popular. Pause here and have a guess yourself....
My friends expected the animal charity to be top but actually, it was joint second with the mental health organisation. The most popular (by around 30%) was the refuge.

Are times changing?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


There are a few not-quite-volunteering things going on at the moment and the "intern" is one of them that's spread from the USA. Typically it involves young people working for free in the hope of impressing the employer so much that a paid role is created.

Most our sector people in our sector have seen something similar - the  and  volunteer who progresses into employment with us. Not only have I championed such volunteers, I've got two jobs that way myself. It's different to the modern intern though. Typically a volunteer to employee person isn't working anything like full-time hours with the charity and they probably started volunteering for other reasons.

A modern intern typically works full-time and hopes to get a well paid job at the end of it. A few interns even pay for the privilege. With such motivations, it's not surprising that some "unsuccessful" interns feel cheated and exploited and hence sites such as Intern Aware with its  "campaign for fair, paid internships".

Government have got involved - HMRC are currently investigating 100 firms using interns for possible breaches of the national minimum wage laws.

Here in the real voluntary sector, we need to be careful not to catch any of the mud that's being thrown and, of course, do our "volunteer agreements" properly. See Volunteering England for a guide

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Volunteering and Benefits

The relationship between volunteering and state benefits is often in a state of flux and confusion. Within the last month, I've met more than one potential volunteer worrying about affecting their benefit and they “know the 16 hour rule”. 
Currently the DWP is clear that there is no such rule, although individual staff members may be less clear. As Universal Credit approaches, there has been some alarm in the sector about a possible 17.5 hour limit. This comes from an expectation that work-ready claimants will pursue work or work preparation on a full time basis, usually 35 hours/week and although volunteering time can be deducted, it's limited to 50%.
As someone with experience of volunteering, job seeking and volunteer management, I'd comment: 
  •          16 or 17.5 hours/week volunteering is fairly rare
  •           Serious job seeking can be quite time consuming. (EG: Looking at one of my old application forms prepared in Word shows nearly 4 hours of editing time – and it resulted in an interview) 
So, regardless of what the law might say, I'd suggest that most out of paid work job seekers might be wise to restrict their volunteering to around half time.
It's a point of view that doesn't sit easily with stories of job seekers being compelled to work 30 hours a week in charity shops for 6 months.  The Job Centre still don't understand and value volunteering - I recently met a Personal Adviser who disapproved of his customers finding their own volunteering assignments. He would like a system where they were sent to an approved supplier who would allocate a volunteer role for them.
I fear there's a culture clash – the sector understands and celebrates choice and taking responsibility while the Job Centre struggles to get away from the idea that customers are incompetent, work-shy and need compulsory guidance.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Why Cait Riley is important

Cait Riley gets a degree in Geology and starts job hunting. Then she has a wheeze - why not volunteer to work in a local museum? Keep in touch with her industry and give her something to get up in the morning for. 

Then, enter "Jobcentre Plus", the government department supposedly in charge of helping the unemployed into jobs. They compel her to stop doing sensible volunteering and give her mandatory unpaid work at Poundland a commercial shop.

Fundamentally, the government doesn't understand the voluntary sector at all.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Venerable Volunteer

The Venerable Volunteer has been round the block and then some. To some, they are an inspiration, regaling a group of less experienced volunteers with stories of the time they helped a difficult client who then turned round and put £50 in the collecting box. As s/he continues with an anecdote that contravenes data protection, health and safety and several other sacred cows of the modern charity world, mangers and more clued up volunteers cringe. How did we ever get here and what can be done?

Often, such volunteers are often still doing a lot of good work for the charity and a lot of the dire things that are supposed to go wrong when you ignore policies don’t actually transpire. That's partly because these contingencies are pretty rare and our volunteer has enough experience to avoid trouble. The manager poised to make a retiring issue out of a breach of policy may find themselves suddenly receiving thanks from a delighted client.

It's very important for a manager to be aware of why they find this volunteer so challenging so as to work out a sensible way forward. A volunteer with experience, reputation and respect from others may feel very threatening to a manager. Is that what the problem is? Or is there a real problem?

Ideally, you never get into such situations but staff often have shorter careers than volunteers so the chances are, a new manager will find themselves with a venerable volunteer already in place.  For all the venerable volunteer may be seen as a problem, they often know a lot about the service and its history. Float an idea with them and they may tell you that it was tried before, worked well and but they don't know why it was stopped. That could be an incredibly useful clue. Using their experience in this way also helps to build a relationship with an influential member. As part of that relationship, you may be able to get them to change any truly worrying behaviour.