Volunteer or else

Following on from the previous post on the government’s unsuccessful attempts to artificially stimulate volunteering, Third Sector has news of the crudest manifestation of that policy – an £8million scheme to ‘offer’ volunteer placements to the unemployed.

It’s not going very well: “Tom Flood, chief executive of the BTCV, told Third Sector he was committed to the programme, which aims to match 34,000 jobseekers in England with volunteering placements by March 2011.

‘But because the brokerage programme was rushed through, there wasn’t enough time to design it properly and the brokers have faced difficulties in running it,’ he said.

“In areas of high unemployment, the sector does not always have the capacity to create enough volunteering placements. In other areas, the jobseekers decide not to do placements.”

Miles Sibley, development director at BTCV, said only about a quarter of jobseekers referred to the brokers by job centres finished volunteering placements.”

What’s more: “Third Sector has also learned that the scheme is meeting only half of its monthly targets and that one of the four charity partners – BTCV, CSV, Volunteering England and v  – is underperforming and might be forced to pull out or accept a reduced role.”

This scheme is part of the government’s recession-busting stimulus package. A package that includes a lot of very sensible measures and other schemes – such as the Future Jobs Fund – that are ambitious but potentially exciting. The problem with the volunteering brokerage splurge is that it’s a replication of existing practice – such as the offering of volunteer placements under the New Deal – which has always had, at best, ‘mixed results’. It ought to be but, to policy makers, isn’t an obvious point that a general prerequisite for a successful volunteer placement is an active desire to volunteer.

Irrespective of that volunteers aptitude, sending a charity or community organisation a volunteer who has been cajoled into taking a placement – either through threat of lost benefits or in order to avoid the latest round of soul-destroying back to work provision – does not usually amount to doing that charity or community group a favour.

That’s not to say that these type of placements should happen at all. Where an organisation has a member of staff whose explict role is to work with and develop the motivation, skills and confidence of volunteers, it can end up working very well. But where an organisation just has an over-stretched staff team with lots to do, having to supervise an unmotivated volunteer is more likely to frustrate than promote positive social outcomes. And it’s not really surprising that 75% of these ‘volunteers’ don’t finish their placements.

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