Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Giving White Paper: One Year On - an analysis

The government recently published its “Giving White Paper: One Year On” report, outlining progress since the white paper was released and plans for the next couple of years. 

As I wrote an analysis of the original paper I felt a similar look at this progress report was a good idea.  What follows are my initial thoughts and I’d love for you to add your own via comments at the end.

Giving isn’t just about money

One of the most striking aspects of the new paper is the relative paucity of reference to volunteering compared to a year ago.  It seems government, like many in the sector, seem to be (increasingly?) blind to the fact that people give time as well as money.  In fact many give both – and volunteers give more money than non-volunteers – but this is ignored with an almost sole focus on giving money apparently at the heart of government thinking.

Thanks in part to the Give It Back George (GIBG) campaign, the much vaunted – and often delayed - Giving Summit appears to have focused exclusively on giving money, and within that been dominated by the GIBG which, according to the treasury, only concerned approximately 340 donors.

In the new One Year On paper volunteering gets little attention.  There is mention of it in respect to criminal record checks and proposals for these to be portable (although it is still unclear if these would remain free to volunteers).  There is also, and quite interestingly, mention of volunteering in regard to Waitrose who are apparently extending their ‘green token’ scheme so customers can vote for which organisations they want Waitrose staff to volunteer for.  Quite what Waitrose staff seem to think about being voluntold by shoppers is conveniently glossed over. And of course we have National Citizen’s Service which, it should be noted, is only partly about volunteering and largely about conditioning young people into how government thinks they should be.

There is, at first sight, some glimmer of hope as government refer to a priority for the coming year to be supporting providers of opportunities to make giving easier, but further reading reveals this to only be focused on providers of opportunities to give money.

Government’s complicity with many in the sector to make giving synonymous only with giving money is a worrying development, not least because it supports the sidelining and subordination of the giving of time at a time when we perhaps need volunteers more than ever and where donors (of money) are in ever shorter supply.

Baby Boomers

Last year I welcomed the White Paper’s inclusion of baby boomers in addition to the ever present focus in the UK on young people volunteering.  As I noted at the time, demographic shifts in the population are resulting in many more older people than younger people, now and in future.  Couple that with the interests, motivations and expectations of the boomers being very different from their parents (who have been the mainstay of many organisations core volunteers for years) and we have a growing market of potential volunteers who need much more consideration. 

Whilst everyone’s favourite (former) Big Society Czar Lord Wei has recently proposed a National Citizens Service for retirees, the One Year On paper fails to mention boomers at all.  Instead we get a sole focus on youth engagement, including volunteering – socially engineering a generation of givers through expensive national programmes that, in Opposition, the Tories promised would not happen on their watch.  I’ve already highlighted my anxiety with constantly talking about volunteering to a generation facing unprecedented levels of youth unemployment and the government doesn’t say anything here to alleviate those concerns.

Quality and ease of giving

Last year I acknowledged the original Giving White Paper for giving attention to the importance of the giving experience.  If people give – time or money – and have a great time doing so, they are surely more likely to do so again.  Conversely, if they don’t have a great experience not only may they not give to that cause or organisation again, they may in fact be turned off giving altogether.

A year on and this focus on the giving experience is gone, replaced by the increasingly dominant view that the priority is to make it easier to give, with apparently little focus on the quality of the experience.

From my perspective, this approach over the last year has resulted in an almost bewildering array of new (mainly) websites through which people can find opportunities to donate time or money.  Does this ever expanding number of websites make it easier or more confusing?  Does it result in more giving, or do we simply see people pledging to give (as with the recent Jubilee Hour) but not always following through on that pledge?

In her July 2012 Hot Topic, Susan Ellis look at whether such a focus on pledge programmes and calls to action really make a difference to volunteering or whether they are, in fact, just the Emperor’s New Clothes?

It is all well and good for government to highlight the work of Future First who are helping schools develop alumni programmes which, One Year On suggests, will create a pool of 75,000 volunteers.  The key questions, however, are; what will 75,000 volunteers do in our schools?; how are schools being supported to develops opportunities for these volunteers?; what resources will schools have to manage these volunteers?; etc. etc.

What we need is not more schemes to dress up volunteering as something sexy and new. 

What we need is not new campaigns to try and encourage more people to give. 

What we need is organisations to be encouraged not to cut their volunteer management posts at the first sight of tightening budgets.

What we need is investment (by organisations primarily but government showing willing and leadership wouldn’t hurt) to increasing the capacity to involve volunteers in ways the meet the goals of volunteer involving organisations and fit with the interests and availabilities of people in our 21st century society.

We should be transforming the country’s attitude to giving time by giving people great opportunities which they enjoy engaging with and want to do again and again, not by developing more and more websites or running campaigns to show willing but little action.

Sadly however, there is nothing in One Year On about volunteer leadership and management.  Nothing.  The support of the last government for volunteer management now seems a distant memory.  We appear to have it all to do again.

Impact measurement

In keeping with the zeitgeist, the One Year On paper makes reference to the importance of impact measurement in stimulating giving.  To an extent, this is a good thing.  Organisations that can demonstrate the difference the contribution of time and/or money can make to their mission are in a strong position to secure support, especially if they can demonstrate how people can make such an impact through giving in ways the fit with their complex and busy lives.

However, there seems to be little acknowledgement of the need for any kind of assessment of the impact of the work the government has supported over the last year.  We’re not saying there hasn’t been any, but with £millions spent and £40million more promised to "mobilise large numbers of people to get involved with good causes", it would be good to see some evidence that what government has supported and wants to support in future has/will actually make a difference to all forms of giving in the UK.

Which leads on to…

…Civil service volunteering

The One Year On paper makes passing reference to the government’s pledge last year to get thousands more civil servants volunteering.  But that’s all we get – a mention of the proposal.  No report on progress.  Has anything happened?  What impact has it had so far?  Or is it a case of the sector must do impact reporting but government doesn’t have to?


It hasn’t been a great year for volunteering infrastructure since the launch of the original Giving White Paper.  We’ve seen some Volunteer Centres close or scale back their services and most recently there has been the announcement of the “loss” of Volunteering England as they merge into NCVO.  This could be a good thing for volunteering as I suggest in my blog on the proposed merger, but even if it is we will still see the loss of a distinct national infrastructure body for volunteering (in England at least) as opposed to the voluntary sector, the first time we will have no such body in over forty years.

The One Year On paper is relatively silent about infrastructure, at least in terms of its importance in enabling volunteering to happen.  As I’ve highlighted already there seems to be a focus on technology and website as a short-cut solution to good brokerage.  Whilst investment in long standing sites like Do-It is welcome, not everyone is online, not everyone wants to find out about volunteering online and sometimes we know face-to-face support for those who want to volunteer is far more important and necessary.

Local volunteering infrastructure gets two main mentions in the One Year On paper.  First is in regard to the government’s Transforming Local Infrastructure Fund.  Yes, this fund should have some positive impacts on volunteering locally but it is primarily focused on infrastructure support for the voluntary and community sector and that is not the same as support for the volunteering sector.

Second, is the reference to an opportunity for "pioneering Volunteer Centres to test ideas for modernising their offer" via funding from the NESTA innovation in giving fund.  On the face of it this is much more positive but the key question is what does this mean?  What is a pioneering Volunteer Centre?  What does modernising their offer mean - more brokerage done online?  So a cautious welcome until we see the detail.

Finally, towards the start, the One Year On Paper states that:

“We have also got to recognise that this a time when many people feel they have less time and money and may be reluctant to do more”. 

Interesting considering recent research seems to indicates that the act of volunteering makes people feel like they have more time.  As the researchers put it:

“Ultimately, giving time makes people more willing to commit to future engagements despite their busy schedules.”

Perhaps the thinking that inspired at least some of the Giving White Paper is already out of date?  Or is this an area where evidence based policy making isn’t really done?

So, what do you think of the One Year On paper and the issues it raises?

Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said?  Why?

What are your observations on the government’s attempts to get people to give more, whether time, or money or both?

Let’s hear what you have to say.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Postcard from New Zealand

I'm really excited about this blog post in which we hear from our New Zealand colleague Claire Teal about the work Volunteering New Zealand is doing to support and develop volunteer managers.  Their work is innovative and exciting and, in my view, provides a model that we other countries could (should?) replicate in their own contexts in order to raise the profile of the important role leaders and managers of volunteers play in society.

But enough of my views, over to you Claire...


Let me just say from the outset (with love, and humour, and all that) that development work amongst managers/leaders of volunteers is akin to herding cats. Our first response when asked about professional development is to cry out for a qualification. Pursue that a bit further and we become adamant that having a qualification will alienate volunteer managers of volunteers and/or create hierarchies between us and/or just take something away from the essence of what we do. We want a qualification, but we don’t want a qualification. Actually, we want development but we don’t want development. We are quick to rally for more recognition of our role and what we do, but equally quick to resist any attempt to change things. Doing this, we say, takes time we don’t have, takes the focus off the volunteers and, again, alienates volunteer managers of volunteers. Oh, and don’t forget our diversity…one size of development is never going to fit all, you know. Wow…what to do?

In New Zealand, our answer to that question has literally been to put a line in the sand and say we either need to accept that change will happen as a result of those demands, or stop demanding. We knew, through two conferences (2009 and 2011), some major research assignments canvassing over 800 New Zealand managers/leaders of volunteers and a whole lot of talking that there were some clear priorities for action here. Those clear priorities just needed to be outworked in a way that respected and reflected both the huge diversity of roles and the differing levels of desire for increased opportunities and recognition present in our field. The work we’re doing at Volunteering New Zealand around this is still very new, but the response we’ve received so far from managers/leaders of volunteers, wider organisations, and stakeholder groups as a whole across the country indicates that we’re on the right track.

So, what has our approach been?:

  1. To focus on the total inseparability of individual development for managers/leaders of volunteers from development of the groups and organisations they work within.
  2. To respond directly to what New Zealand managers/leaders of volunteers have said they want, without making anything compulsory or forcing it on those who aren't interested (but at the same time trying to bust the whole ‘volunteer managers of volunteers will get left behind’ myth. Who says these people don’t want to take charge of their own professional development?! Then why do we always assume they don’t?).
  3. To collaborate as much as possible, by doing all work through national working groups, by getting on the road and facilitating workshops for managers/leaders of volunteers around the country, and by seeking feedback every step of the way.

As I said, our work is still new, but in three years we’ve covered a lot of ground.

Many managers/leaders of volunteers seem to at the idea of a qualification because they see it as one clear leverage point from which to demand the status and recognition they deserve. Maybe one day our work here will progress to a qualification, but right now we’ve pulled back from the qualification debate to focus on the questions managers/leaders of volunteers are actually asking about their professional development. Things like:

"As a manager of volunteers, how do I find out what training and study opportunities I should be looking for to help me develop the skills I want to develop? Are there even opportunities out there?"

To use their words, New Zealand managers/leaders of volunteers want a learning pathway that they can use for their own, individual professional development. A pathway suggests movement, and to show movement, you need something to act as a marker or baseline. To create markers, we've been working on a set of competencies for all New Zealand managers/leaders of volunteers. They are high-level, not task-focused, and they map out four key areas of skills/values/attributes that managers/leaders of volunteers demonstrate in their work. Our goal is to work these competencies into a self-assessment tool that will make it easier to find the best-suited-to-you learning and development options that already exist, including assessment/recognition of prior learning. This will result in managers/leaders of volunteers being able to make informed choices about their own professional development from the day they enter the field through to the most advanced level.

The competencies are still under feedback and consultation in New Zealand, and so there is a high chance what you see below will change. However, here’s a quick sneak preview of a little bit, so you can see how we’ve structured them:

Base Knowledge

Base Knowledge Applied

Adaptive Leadership

Strategic Leadership
Competency 3:
Leadership Within Organisations

Managers of volunteers demonstrate organisational vision and values, and influence people to achieve them (both paid and volunteer staff)

You know the organisation’s vision and values
You apply the organisation’s vision and values to your own and other’s roles and tasks
You seek input from the team into current and future activities, and how best to align these to the organisation’s vision, values and strategic direction
You engage with others from both within the organisation and across the community to get their input into strategic direction and ideas for collaboration

Developing ourselves as managers/leaders of volunteers is one thing, but what about the groups and organisations we operate within?

Again, our method has been to draw another line in the sand and say hey, it doesn’t actually matter if organisations are big or informal, or if the manager/leader of volunteers is paid or a volunteer themselves. If you are serious about effectively involving volunteers, then you need to be serious about recognising, resourcing and supporting both these volunteers and the person providing the skilled leadership they need.

To speak into this, we are developing best practice guidelines for organisations. These aren't guidelines for how to manage volunteers well. They are tips and strategies for groups and organisations to use to ensure everything to do with volunteers (manager/leader of volunteers and volunteers, and all they do) is recognised, resourced and supported as a vital part of the organisation. Obviously, implementing these guidelines effectively means engaging across organisations much more widely than ‘just’ with the manager/leader of volunteers. It requires buy-in from Chief Executives and Boards, Senior Management, and so on. As an incentive, we are creating a category of Volunteering New Zealand Champion Organisation; organisations to hold this title will be those who can demonstrate commitment from a whole-of-organisation foundation to the principles of the best practice guidelines.

As I said earlier, we see a total inseparability of organisational development from individual development. We can have the most highly professionally developed managers/leaders of volunteers in the world, but if our organisations still don’t get what we do, then what have we really achieved?

This is very much a once-over-lightly look at what we volunteer management advocates are up to in New Zealand. I know (and many times, am reminded the hard way) that this is a contentious topic. There is no set template for what management/leadership of volunteers looks like in New Zealand or anywhere else in the world, and it’s hard to introduce change and development into the ‘field’ without many people assuming you want to create one. Trying to grow and develop management of volunteers means balancing the managers/leaders of volunteers who do want to see the field develop and those who might not be as interested in this, or are concerned about its implications. It also means encouraging both ends of the continuum and everyone in between that the stand-point we all hold is okay!

At the end of the day, we are all in it for the same reason - because we believe in the power of volunteering and we want to ensure the best possible experience for volunteers we work with.

About Claire:
Claire is a passionate advocate for the important role Managers and Leaders of Volunteers play in the design and delivery of effective volunteer programmes. She brings nearly two decades of experience working in the Community and Voluntary Sector in both paid and volunteer capacities to her role as Programme Manager at Volunteering New Zealand.
Previously she worked as Service Manager at the Central City Branch of the Wellington Citizens Advice Bureau, leading the volunteer team and taking a key role in the development of several collaborative community projects. Prior to this, she held roles as a statutory social worker and in community engagement in primary health care.
Claire is currently Deputy Chair of Volunteer Wellington, on the Leadership Team of Women in Leadership Aotearoa, and on the International Volunteer Managers Day Committee. In 2011, she was an invited international faculty member at the Australasian Advanced Retreat for Managers of Volunteers. This year, she is a participant in the Leadership New Zealand Leadership Programme.