Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Happy new year

So 2012 is finally upon us.

Happy new year!

After a refreshing break with family over Christmas I am, as promised before the holidays, turning my eyes to the next twelve months to see what they might have in store for volunteering.

Crystal ball gazing is always a dangerous activity.  I have no more idea about what is going to happen in 2012 than you do.  I could make my predictions and they all turn out to be totally wrong.  So, once you've read my thoughts below please do feel free to make your own predictions by adding a comment.

I want to pick up on three things:

1/ Volunteering and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games
The first programme on BBC 1 after the coverage of the London new year fireworks was a trail for the Olympics.  The start of eight months of hype.  Which will inevitably be followed by four months of celebration, either for Team GB's performance and/or for the overall (hopeful and peaceful) success of the Games.  Four months of everyone, not least the politicians, claiming the credit for the Olympics and Paralympics.

In reality it will be 70,000 Games Maker volunteers plus many thousands of volunteers across the UK - in host city programmes, the cultural Olympiad and alike - who will make the Games a success.  Without them, all the hard work of LOCOG, UK Sport and others will be for nought.

My first prediction is a negative one - all this effort by tens of thousands of volunteers will go largely unrecognised during the Games and quickly forgotten afterwards.

In the seven years since the Games were announced as coming to London we have been promised a volunteering legacy like no other Games.  Having been sort of on the inside to some of those discussion whilst at Volunteering England I can testify to the frustration of many at the politicking, backtracking and all round marginalisation of volunteering that has ebbed and flowed in the last few years.

Sadly, come the end of the year, I fear the average person on the street will know no more about volunteering as a result of the Games and will be no more inclined to give their time than they might otherwise have been.  The 2012 Games will have been a success because of Lord Coe, Team GB, David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

Not a volunteer in sight.

On this prediction, I hope I am wrong.

2/ Volunteering and the cuts
Many commentators think 2012 could be a harder year financially for the voluntary and community sector/civil society/third sector (delete according to what we are to call it this year!).  Despite recent suggestions that voluntary income is holding up in hard times, public spending is going to be hit hard again.  Many organisations are going to face further cuts.

My predictions for volunteering here are a mixed bag.

On the negative side, I fear many organisations will do as they did in previous years and keep trying to do what they've always done, especially when it comes to thinking about how they achieve their missions.  So we'll see organisations trying harder and spending more money to try and replace the cash which is cut, in apparent denial that there simply isn't the same amount of money around as there was before.  Such lack of imagination in how to get things done will sadly see some organisation got to the wall.

For me this myopic approach to sustaining and growing an organisation in our challenging times will remain a key theme of my writing and speaking.  It is also an area I am planning to try and address through work with other consultants to provide a package of support to organisational leaders to help them learn how they can maximise the impact of donated time rather than just pursuing more and more money.  Watch this space.

On the positive side, I think the continuing tough times will lead many leaders, organisations and others to open their eyes to the potential of volunteer support.  They will start to realise that: today's volunteers are increasingly very different from the stereotype of volunteers; today's volunteers want to make a difference, not just a contribution; today's volunteers increasingly bring a wealth of skills, talent and experience to organisations.

They'll begin to appreciate that baby boomers are changing the face of older volunteers and Gen Y are changing the face of what young people can contribute.

I predict 2012 will see many more organisations provide today's volunteers with ways of engaging that meet their needs as well as those of the organisation and beneficiary.  Not through gimmicks like microvolunteering but through real and meaningful change in the way they value and engage people who give their time to good causes.

In doing so they will change the face of volunteering and leave those who fail to adapt lagging far behind.

3/ Volunteer management gets a move on
For such change in volunteering to happen, volunteer management needs to change and, dare I say it, grow up.

2011 saw some fantastic work in support of those who lead and manage volunteers.  The Association of Volunteer Managers held their first conference and Volunteer Centre Warrington, through their EYV2011 funded work for Volunteering England to champion and support volunteer management, helped many volunteer managers to find their voice and start speaking, writing, blogging and tweeting, sharing their views, opinions, ideas and challenges with others.  The momentum built throughout the second half of the year with a final VC Warrington webinar in December which explored, amongst other things, the idea of building a volunteer management movement (search #vmmovement on Twitter).

So my final prediction for 2012 is a positive one.

I think 2012 will be a key year - maybe even the year - for volunteer managers to confidently take centre stage, to be proud of who we are and what we do without resorting to insecurities associated with always comparing ourselves to other professions.

I think we'll end the year with much more awareness of the importance volunteer managers as vital resources to help organisations make the most of the most precious donation they can receive, the donation of someone's time.

So that's what I think but what do you think?

What do you see happening in 2012?

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


  1. Hi Rob, I get a sense that you'll be spot on about the Olympic volunteer involvement. It isn's so much cynicism as being informedly disappointed drawing on previous experience. Cynicism isn't illegal yet from what I can gather, but imagery and participation rule on big events. Saying that you are 'involving' being 'community driven' and similar marketing fluff is just what one should expect from tieing up volunteering and big events like the Olympics. Running local events miles from where it will really happen, hasn't instilled any sense of belonging at all I don't think, just as Square Mile and Big Society have reinvented some of what was already out there but is now probably in administration or at closure stage. 2011 has seen volunteering being used very cynically, sad to say 2012 won't be any different.

  2. Predictions may be an uncertain thing, but personally I've always loved a bit of crystal ball gazing. Afterall, it's important to look forward, and perhaps even more important to consider where we might fit into what's happening and be a part of new developments wherever possible.
    I agree with your comments about volunteering and volunteer management. One encouraging aspect of the EYV11 project from our point of view were the number of individuals and organisations coming forward to find out more about how they can make these changes happen.

    In 2012, we need some strong, effective leadership for volunteering and I believe that much of that needs to and indeed will come from within organisations and from those who have responsibilty for volunteers. Who better, than those who are really doing it?

  3. Regarding Games Maker Olympic Volunteers, readers may be interested in this story - regarding the social media restrictions placed on these volunteers.