Friday, 22 June 2012

NCVO and VE in formal talks about merger

So, the news I have been expecting for so long has finally been announced: Volunteering England and NCVO are in formal talks about a merger which could happen as early as 2013.

Ever since the coalition decided to phase out funding for its strategic partners, the writing was pretty much on the wall for those organisations who were heavily reliant on state funding, such as VE.  The cuts in spring 2011 were necessary but it was inevitable that further cuts would come and, from my view as a former director of the organisation, the time would come when merger would become inevitable.

NCVO is the natural choice and not just because VE currently shares their building.  They are perhaps the best capitalised of all the national sector infrastructure bodies and so their sustainability, even through tough times like these, is pretty much secure.  Similarly they cover a range of areas in their work - infrastructure, leadership, funding, training and development etc. - and so the fit with volunteering, which crosses all fields and sectors, is a good one.

What is sad to see in the coverage of the story by the media is, yet again, the complete absence of an reference to VE's formation back in 2004.  Way before anyone else thought it was a wise thing to do, well ahead of merger becoming a topic of open conversation in the sector, before ChangeUp even, VE was born from the merger of the other organisations.  Not because funding was tight or diminishing, but because those organisations felt it was the best thing to do to move volunteering forwards in England.  In fact the Charity Commission still use VE's creation as a case study of good practice on their website.

Of course in 2007 VE undertook another merger, this time with Student Volunteering England, a piece of work I had the privilege of leading.

So merger is not new territory for VE or indeed for NCVO.

What might the implications be?

Well one potential downside is the loss of a unique voice for volunteering.  Volunteering is not confined to the voluntary sector, it happens in the public and private sectors too. That's why the term volunteerism is sometimes used as an alternative to voluntarism - the former denotes any area where volunteering happens, the latter speaks to anything concerned with the voluntary sector.  There is a great article by Susan Ellis that explains the difference better than I can.

VE becoming a part of NCVO does risk, if not carefully managed and monitored, the voice of volunteering being lost within wider sector debates.

Another way of looking at this though is that the potential merger might well put volunteering at the heart of some key voluntary sector debates.

I am on record as being frustrated that the sector's response to the current and future challenges it faces, especially in terms of funding, has been to try strategies from the past to solve problems of the future.  So we see organisations desperately trying to raise more money from a society that has less to give.  We see frantic campaigns to protect income for the few rather than efforts to help organisations adapt to the new reality.

Volunteering needs to be a part of the solution for the sector.  Volunteering is changing as the people who volunteer change and the society in which they live - and so the context in which they give their time - changes.  In my view, organisations ignore this at their peril.  Perhaps VE becoming a part of NCVO will enable volunteering to take a central, indeed its rightful, place at the heart of the sector's thinking about how it survives and thrives in future.  This would be especially useful if  volunteering retains a clear policy voice that becomes properly integrated within NCVO's policy and campaigning work.

Where might the proposed merger leave volunteer management?

To be honest, this has been one of the less developed areas of VE's work.  Since it was created, the section of VE's membership with the loudest voice has been the Volunteer Centres and so volunteer management didn't get much of a look in.  Of course some good work got done, not least the work Capacitybuilders funded in 2010/11 as part of the last governments dedicated volunteer management funding.

In reality though it is AVM and, more recently, the superb work of Voluntary Action Warrington that has been pushing forward the volunteer management agenda in England.

So I'm sure there are opportunities for NCVO to get more involved in the volunteer management arena but it has to be in a way that complements the good work already happening, not seeking to duplicate or replace it.  Knowing NCVO as I do I don't think that would happen, but the point needs making in case others are looking at that territory with hungry eyes.

Where does the proposed merger leave Volunteer Centres, especially as most are now a part of local Councils for Voluntary Service (or similar) and so are run by members of NAVCA?

Well, I did note that one of the VE trustees who has been involved in the discussions with NCVO is Tessa Willow of VC Liverpool.  I have a lot of time and respect for Tessa and in my view she is one of the best possible people to be representing the VC network in these discussions.  So VCs should, as much as possible, be reassured by that.

However, there are inevitable questions about the future of VCs within VE.  Is now the time for NAVCA to make a play for VCs, bringing them formally into the fold, linking them with NAVCA's developing quality standards and advocating for VCs as a distinct voice of the sector?

As with the rest of this news, I guess only time will give us the answers.

Finally, and most importantly, I want to go on public record as saying that my thoughts are first and foremost with colleagues at friends at VE as they face another period of uncertainty and change.  Good luck guys.

So, over to you.

What are your thoughts on the proposed merger?

Good news?

Bad news?

Why?

Let's hear what you think

7 comments:

  1. All good points Rob.

    The specific interest in a local and national volunteering infrastructure emerged in part out of NCVO (then NCSS) concerns in the late 1960s which together with the National Institute of Social Work Training set up the Aves Commission, so I guess in some sense the story comes full circle.

    For those interested in the various mergers that led to the organisation VE, there is a useful overview history of the formation of the various groups that formed Volunteering England in 2004 and 2007 produced by Anjelica Finnegan and Georgina Brewis as part of the handover of the charity's archive to the LSE in 2011. This document highlights some of the key areas and priorities of work for VE and its predecessors over the past 40 years. There's much to be discovered from a look at the papers themselves - which tell the modern history of the development of the volunteering movement in England. Read the pdf here: http://lib-161.lse.ac.uk/archives/digital/Volunteering_England.pdf

    Best wishes
    Georgina Brewis

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  2. Thanks for your excellent points, Rob. As someone who has watched -- from across the pond -- the evolution first of the National Centre for Volunteering and then of VE, and also of AVB becoming part of VE, the recent decimation of so much fine work is truly distressing. It seems so nonsensical that a government touting local involvement could defund the very agency focused on volunteering. However, if misery loves company, we are seeing the same funding crisis affecting some of the most established peak bodies in many countries, notably Canada and Australia. Here in the United States, the supposed "voices" of volunteering -- HandsOn Network/Points of Light and the Corporation for National and Community Service -- do not know the first thing about the world of volunteer management and have no interest in those who lead volunteers within organizations. It's the worst situation I've witnessed here in my 40 years in the field.

    It is not my place to offer an English strategy, but I do hope that your blog will be supported by others, possibly on ivo, and conveyed to NCVO and the mass media (let's get smart!). I would also hope that efforts are being made for the merger to create a distinct, dedicated department or initiative of NCVO still using the term volunteering, rather than volun"tary." Ideally with designated and knowledgeable staff focused on that work.

    I send my sympathy and good luck wishes!

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  3. I'm slightly saddened that this long-anticipated merger has taken a significant step forward. Like Rob and Susan, I am worried that the voice of volunteering may be less prominent.

    However, I take issue with Rob's suggestion that Volunteer Centres have a different agend from other organisations concerned with volunteer management. All of us who lead or work in Volunteer Centres are signed up to the six core functions which, to me all point to the one thing that I always say when people ask me whet my job is.

    I support people who manage volunteers.

    I do this through:

    Brokerage - helping them to recruit appropriate new volunteers.
    Opportunity Development - Coming up with good, interesting things for volunteers to do.
    Good Practice Development - Training VMs to look after volunteers so that they will want to keep volunteering.
    Marketing and Publicity - of the concept of volunteering as well as of specific opportunities.
    Strategic Development of Voluntering - The bigger picture that VMs on the front-line may not always have time to do for themselves
    Policy Resonse and Campaigning - Assessing how things like a merger of VE and NAVO might affect the support that these local VM's get.

    So I maintain that Volunteer Centres and Volunteer Managers have the same set of interests in what happens to the national voice of volunteering

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    Replies
    1. Hi Dave.

      You've made a really point there about the important link between VCs and volunteer management. I totally agree with you which is why I can't quite figure how you thought I was suggesting VCs had a different agenda.

      The creation of VE, bringing NAVB and NCV together, enabled the VC/VM link to be strengthened and I hope that continues in future. That's why it'll be interesting to see where VCs end up in the mix, in with VE/NCVO or NAVCA (or elsewhere?) either en masse or individually.

      Thanks again for the comment.

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  4. Rob
    Thankyou for an excellent, thoughtful blog.

    As well as leading NCVO's policy work I am also trustee of my local CVS...which is also the Volunteer Centre. I'd like to think I will bring this perspective with me in taking forward the merged organisations: indeed, my hope is that we can build upon the strengths both organisations have in policy development.

    re Dave's point about volunteering having a lower profile: I think everyone involved would think that this would be a bad thing for volunteering. I think everyone will strive to improve the profile of volunteering - whether in voluntary organisations or other settings.
    Cheers
    Karl

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  5. Rob
    Thankyou for an excellent, thoughtful blog.

    As well as leading NCVO's policy work I am also trustee of my local CVS...which is also the Volunteer Centre. I'd like to think I will bring this perspective with me in taking forward the merged organisations: indeed, my hope is that we can build upon the strengths both organisations have in policy development.

    re Dave's point about volunteering having a lower profile: I think everyone involved would think that this would be a bad thing for volunteering. I think everyone will strive to improve the profile of volunteering - whether in voluntary organisations or other settings.
    Cheers
    Karl

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  6. I think the ‘loss of a unique voice for volunteering’ point is an interesting one. Whilst that was my initial reaction maybe that was actually holding volunteering back, that by being separate it failed to place volunteering at the heart of key debates and instead was perceived as an add-on, unfairly or not.

    Potentially though this could be very exciting news as I think NCVO has a lot to offer on leading and developing volunteering.

    The devil as ever is in the detail. Will NCVO be able to manage the volunteerism/voluntarism divide? And, in particular, how will volunteer management feature? As we know, volunteer management is key to effective and safe volunteering – if NCVO (and through their influence ACEVO) really buy into that and push those messages to their members then actually this could be the catalyst for making a step-change in how volunteer management is seen and supported, both nationally and locally.

    The membership issue will certainly be intriguing. There has always been a tension between how VE meets the demands of both VCs and Volunteer-Involving Orgs, and I’ve been in many workshops/seminars/debates where VE has been accused of being too VC- or VIO-centric.

    Whatever happens let’s hope, if it does goes through, it’s a smooth merger and as pain-free as possible for VE staff who’ve been through the wringer over the last couple of years.

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