Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Volunteers - let's be 'aving you

At the start of November I noticed a small flurry of blog posts and media mentions focusing on volunteering in policing.
The first that got my attention was on the BBC New website, “Volunteer Army may swell police ranks”. This reported on the recent Home Office consultation “Reforming the Powers of Police Staff and Volunteers” which, in a volunteering context, seeks to:
“…enhance the role of volunteers. We are consulting on ending the anomaly whereby volunteers can either have all of the powers of the constable, as a Special; or have none of the powers, as a police support volunteer. We will instead allow volunteers to mirror the roles played by police staff, for example as Community Support Officers.”
The BBC article tells the story of Alan Hunt, a volunteer with Dorset police who monitors CCTV between 730pm and 4am every Friday and Saturday night. Mr Hunt, who has been in the role for five years, radios officers to attend any disturbances caught on the cameras.
It also mentions a volunteer with the National Crime Agency (the UK’s equivalent of the FBI), who uses his skills as a security adviser with and insurance firm to help give a different perspective on projects to the regular NCA officers.

Another article I noticed from my home county of Lincolnshire explored the role of students in a new volunteering scheme with the county’s police force. In this scheme, the police and the University of Lincoln have partnered to to give students the opportunity to volunteer as Volunteer Police Community Support Officers or Police Campus Drop-In Centre volunteer.
Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Hardwick is quoted as saying that this initiative is not about getting unpaid volunteers to do the work of paid officers:
“There are no officers who would come and sit in the drop-in centre so the idea that the volunteers are doing their work is totally wrong. The volunteers will be able to engage with students far better – the students are their peers and part of that community."
Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police, Neil Rhodes, adds:
“What’s different about today’s initiative is that it’s aimed at young people who will be able to act as an interface with us as volunteers policing the streets of Lincoln and at the drop-in centre.The scheme is about having a bridge between the force and the university. Sometimes it can be quite daunting to approach a police officer whereas if you can speak to one of your fellow students who can help you access our services, that should be easier.”
Sadly (but unsurprisingly) the unions seem less enthusiastic. In the BBC article Ben Priestley, Unison’s national officer for police and justice services, raises concerns about competence and accountability.
“There’s a general question about whether the general public believe that policing should be carried out by, in many cases, well-meaning amateurs. Policing is a serious business, dealing with serious crime, and our members who work as police staff are fully trained, they’re fully vetted and they’re very, very committed to the job they do. If you’re a volunteer, you’re not under the direction and control of a chief constable, as police staff and police officers are, and that’s a very real problem, and I don’t think the general public would be happy about that.”
Mr Priestly makes mistakes common to those within the union movement when it comes to volunteers [1]:
  1. He confuses amateur with incompetent i.e professional means competent. I’ve blogged on this before so do take a look at that post for my thoughts.
  2. He implies volunteers within the police will just be random people, plucked from the street and placed into roles with no training or support. Read the two articles I have already referenced to see that this isn’t the case, police volunteers are properly trained, vetted and supported. Volunteers, when properly recruited, managed and supported, are no less competent at what they do than paid staff.
  3. He suggests volunteers, because they are unpaid, may be less committed than paid police officers. Interesting. Doing a job for no pay implies less commitment? If anything, the issue with volunteers is them being too committed!
  4. He indicates that volunteers would not be ‘under the direction and control’ of a chief constable in the same way as police staff and officers. Why? Volunteers in policing roles are already under such direction and control and held to standards of conduct and behaviour. Mr Priestly is assuming that you can’t control volunteers or hold them responsible and accountable, an assumption that is simply wrong.
  5. He does what all union people who speak out about volunteering do, which is to fail to recognise the the very movement and organisation he represents runs on volunteer labour. As they state on their webiste, Unison employs 1,200 staff and have 1.3 million members, relying on volunteer activists. Without them Unison would not be able to function. Or are all union volunteers untrained, unsupported individuals who can’t be managed or controlled?
My own view is that the role of volunteers in policing, indeed in any public service, is incredibly valuable and should be enhanced. Volunteers don’t simply complement and supplement the work of employees, they bring something else. For example, that could be a distinctively different credibility with the community by virtue of them being unpaid, such as the student volunteers in Lincoln that the Chief Constable highlighted in the remark quoted earlier.

Crucially, the role of volunteers should not be expanded because they are a free or cheap form of labour. That is lazy and wrongheaded thinking that harms both volunteering and the people those very public services seek to help. Where such ill-considered decision making is concerned it should be challenged and we Volunteer Managers should do more to speak up, challenge and help those making the decisions to do so in a better way.

I want to conclude with the words of Justin Davis Smith at NCVO who wraps up his excellent blog post, “We need a better vision for volunteering in policing” like this:
The modern police force was born out of volunteer involvement in the 19th Century. We have a glorious opportunity to re-shape our public services for the 21st Century by harnessing the power of volunteers alongside our paid professionals. It is not a zero sum game, but a complementary, symbiotic relationship, where volunteers and paid staff do what they each do best, operating in consort to deliver a more effective and efficient service better in tune with the community in which they operate.

  1. For more of my blogging about job substitution / displacement / replacement issues, please take a look at the relevant tagged posts.  ↩

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Three things I want to say about controlling volunteers on social media

I’ve just read a great blog from Kevan Lee in the team at Buffer [1]. The blog explores the concept of 360 degree advocacy and the future of social media. Kevan looks at how brands can maximise their social media potential thus:

“A business feels personal not when it speaks like a person but when it reflects the persons that make up the business.”

This line really got my attention because I think it hits upon a key belief I come across regularly when the subject of volunteers and social media arises. You see, quite often when I train on social media in a volunteering context I am told that volunteers cannot be involved in an organisation’s social media work because what they say and do cannot be controlled. The fear is that volunteers will be loose cannons, firing off any old tweet or post that might cut across the carefully controlled brand the organisation wants to project.

There are a three things I want to highlight in response.

First, it isn’t just Communications / Marketing / Branding and / or Senior Management staff I hear this from. It is sometimes from Volunteer Managers too. That might be out of fear or ignorance about social media but sometimes it’s born of a real concern that volunteers won’t be able to be controlled on social media. To me such comments speak volumes about what volunteer management has become to some people, a means of organising people to control their involvement in as low a risk setting as possible rather than inspiring and enabling people to achieve the most for our mission & cause.

Oh, and why by default assume what volunteers say online about you won’t be positive? What does that tell you?

Second, to steer clear of involving volunteers in social media because of an anxiety that we cannot control them is to fundamentally misunderstand social media. As I frequently say in response to such anxieties, control disappeared on 4 February 2004, the day Mark Zuckerberg turned Facebook on. For more than eleven years we’ve had less and less control of what people say about us as more social networks have appeared and more of us join them.

The appropriate response is not to foolishly try to shut the gate a decade after the horse has bolted but to learn to work with the lack of control and manage it appropriately. People, including volunteers, are already talking about you on social media - if you do not or are prevented from engaging with this key communication tool you just won’t know what they are saying. It’s the digital equivalent of putting your head in the sand and hoping it’ll all be OK.

Third, not engaging volunteers (and indeed other supporters) in social media might mean you are failing to realise an emerging key aspect of the very purpose of social media in an organisational context. This is where Kevan Lee’s blog post comes back into focus.

You need to read the post in full to get the complete picture but this quote sums up the key issue:

“Fundamentally, they [businesses, in our contact Volunteer Involving Organisations] are not a person, they are not a human being. What they are is a collection of humans.The individuals that make up the company are what also make the company unique, approachable, relatable. And for a really long time, the best practice for social media marketing has not been about embracing these awesome people. Wow, what a big miss! With a full view of social media advocacy, I think it raises the question: What if this changed? What if we began inviting individuals to contribute to the voice of the brand?”

In other words, we’ve been getting it all wrong if we’ve been trying to control the brand / message on social media and only engage people who are prepared to toe that party line. Instead of running scared that volunteers may say something ‘wrong’, what we perhaps should be doing is finding a way for the corporate voice to be made up of all the individual voices of staff, volunteers, donors and other supporters.

For example, on Twitter, a non-profit organisation maintains a list of all it’s supporters who have Twitter accounts. It then retweets what it’s supporters say that chimes with the brand, making use of those peoples’ own unique voice rather than trying to control what they say. In fact, in a charitable context, doesn’t this make even more sense as often volunteers and other supporters have a persona connection to the cause and so speak with far more authenticity than a social media employee in the central communications team?

Put like that it sounds so obvious. Well it does to me anyway. We need to stop trying to do the impossible and control what people say about us online and instead inspire and enable people to use their voice to help our cause. Just like our approach to volunteer management needs to become less about control and fear of risk and more about empowerment and enabling opportunity.

As Kevan says:

“Brands can embrace the individuality of their team and become more relatable to their audience. The team can have a positive impact on the quality and variety of content the brand shares. I’m particularly excited about how wholeness, personality, and diversity can fit into the equation here, too. For all the work we aim to do with refining and perfecting a social media strategy, perhaps this exact type of variety is the next frontier for brands to engage on a deeper level with the wonderful, creative, unique individuals that make up an audience.”

Once again, you really need to read the whole of Kevan’s blog to get a firm handle on what he is exploring. I highly recommend you do this.

Afterwards, pop back here and let me know what you think about his ides in a volunteering context. I’d love to hear your thoughts and maybe discuss these ideas further through my blog’s comments function.

  1. Buffer is a company which provides a social media scheduling tool. They also produce an excellent blog on social media issues that is both informative and highly practical.  ↩

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Please, no more research into volunteer motivation

Just the other day I was browsing volunteer management stories online and came across an article published by ProBono Australia entitled, “QLD to investigate volunteer numbers”.

To put the article in context, earlier this year the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported the first ever drop in the numbers of people volunteering in Australia: 31 per cent of Australians volunteered compared to 36 per cent just four years ago[1].

In response to this decline, the recent ProBono Australia article states that:

Researchers at Cancer Council Queensland and Griffith University have received a $220,000 Australian Research Council grant to improve understanding of motivations for volunteering. Cancer Council Queensland CEO and lead researcher Professor Jeff Dunn AO said the study could help to improve social and economic well-being by stimulating volunteering.

This grant is one of only nine awarded the ARC Linkage Grant nationally (in Australia) in the field of psychology, and one of two in Queensland.

Professor Dunn is quoted as saying:

“Not for Profits such as Cancer Council Queensland rely heavily on volunteers to carry out work in cancer control, ensuring the delivery of vital community services and fundraising events - which is why it’s imperative we invest time and research into this area.”

“Our aim is to address knowledge gaps about short-term volunteering, to improve uptake of regular volunteering, and to evaluate the economic and social impacts of volunteering."

“It is critical that we understand how we can make short-term volunteering a satisfying experience to encourage longer-term relationships."

“The findings will inform recommendations for sectoral policy and practice on volunteering.”

“At the moment, little is known about why people take up volunteering, and the factors that inspire them to volunteer on a short or long-term basis."

I think these aims are laudable ones. Much more work needs to be done to develop better ways of measuring the impact of volunteering. Research that helps Volunteer Managers and volunteer involving organisations transition people from shorter-term to longer-term (i.e. regular) volunteering is also needed. Both are topics I have blogged about before[2].

However, I do have a major issue with that last quote from Prof Dunn, “At the moment, little is known about why people take up volunteering, and the factors that inspire them to volunteer on a short or long-term basis."

What, you mean like these studies and articles?

Or perhaps Prof Dunn means the 260,000 search results from Google Scholar when you type in “volunteer motivation research”!?

The fact is that the motivation of people to volunteer is the most over-researched topic in volunteering research. In my opinion it also one of the least helpful areas of research to help Volunteer Managers in their day-to-day work. Why? Because such studies are so generic they actually help you when you have a mix of people wanting to give time all of whom have differing motivations and interests.

As Susan J Ellis says:

“I question the relevance of the question why do people volunteer?; when asked generically. Too many studies (not only those on motivation, I might add) approach volunteers as if they are indistinguishable from one another and are interchangeable parts of some monolith. After all, do we think it’s interesting to ask, why do people take paying jobs?”

I firmly believe that all anyone needs to know about volunteer motivation can be summed up in five points:

  1. Every person’s motivational mix is different
  2. Every person’s motivation mix changes
  3. Every person has a differing mix of altruistic and egoistic reasons for volunteering
  4. Nobody wants to have their time wasted, not matter how little or how much they give
  5. Everybody who volunteers wants to make a difference

So please researchers, no more studies on motivation.

Please funders, no more giving significant amounts of money to study topics that have been explored to death already.

Instead, I encourage anyone who wants to do some academic research on volunteering to take a look at this blog post by Susan J Ellis from 1998 and the associated article Susan wrote for the Journal of Voluntary Action Research back in 1985!

I’ll end with three questions for you to consider and respond via the comments below:

  1. What research questions would you like to see studied?
  2. If you could communicate with academics, what would you want them to know that would be helpful to you?
  3. Have you read any studies that you were able to apply to your work?

  1. For an excellent analysis of the decline and what it might mean for volunteering in Australia take a look at Volunteering Tasmania CEO, Adrienne Piccone’s, excellent blog post, “Is the decline in volunteering cause for panic?”.  ↩

  2. See these three blog posts for example: Five things I’d like to say about calculating the economic value of volunteering; Volunteering: measuring what counts; and Short-term thinking on long-term volunteering.  ↩

Thursday, 27 August 2015

What's in a word? Revisited

In November 2013 I wrote a blog post entitled “What’s in a word?” looking at the language we use regarding volunteering. I specifically picked out issues concerning microvolunteering and internships, the latter being especially critical.

As I said at the time:

First, by colluding with the idea that internship sounds more professional than volunteering we collude with the devaluing of volunteering, subordinating it to a lower class status below real work (i.e. paid) and internships. Second, we open up a can of worms such as that created by the recent debates on unpaid internships which - and let’s not ignore this at all - risk fundamentally undermining the concepts of volunteering many of us hold so dear.

This blog post built upon some writing I’d done earlier that year.

In June 2013, Jo Swinson MP commented in a parliamentary debate on interns that:

“…basically, if someone is offering their time of their own free will and they can come and go as they please, they are a volunteer, but if they are required to perform specific tasks and can be disciplined if duties are not performed as agreed, they are a worker.”

As I said in my blog for Third Sector a couple of months later:

“So a volunteer shouldn’t do specific tasks or be held to account if they don’t do a good job? Really? Is that actually how we want to think about volunteers: people doing meaningless work that makes no contribution of any value to society whatsoever? So much for volunteers making a difference.”

Why this brief history lesson? Because the issue of the language we use to describe volunteering has arisen once more and this time through a term that many leaders and managers of volunteers seem to have been happy to adopt: ‘skilled volunteering’.

The term ‘skilled volunteering’ has been around for a short while now and generally refers to people using their professional skills to help a good cause[1]. It is in effect what many people have usually referred to as pro bono:

“Professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment or at a reduced fee as a public service. Unlike traditional volunteerism, it is service that uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them”. (Source - Wikipedia).

I’ve always had an issue with using language that omits the word volunteer to describe volunteering that requires particular skills or competence. Why draw a distinction between employees using their professional skills pro bono and someone who may be a retired professional from the same field using exactly the same skills who is only seen as a volunteer?

On the face of it then ‘skilled volunteering’ is not a bad term because at it least recognises that the people who use their considerable skills and expertise to further a good cause are indeed volunteers.

Yet for that step forwards, the term ‘skilled volunteering’ creates a huge jump backwards.

You see, as it becomes more common to refer to employee volunteers using professional skills as skilled volunteers, so we increasingly imply that all other volunteers are unskilled - nice-to-have, non-essential contributors who don’t do anything of real value in the organisation. It’s bad enough that so many people already hold this erroneous and misleading view of volunteers without introducing new terminology that perpetuates that belief further.

So, leaders and managers of volunteers please unite against the term ‘skilled volunteering’ as a means of distinguishing between different forms of giving time. All volunteering requires some skill and competence, all volunteering is ‘skilled volunteering’ in some way.

If you feel you have to use the word skilled at all when describing volunteering, then consider the compromise term of ‘skills-based volunteering’ which Corey Diamond of Realized Worth helpfully explains on their website:

skills·based·vol·un·teer·ing /skilz/bāst/välənˈtir·ēng/ verb

Any time someone uses their abilities, talents, networks and resources to get a volunteering commitment completed.

This may or may not include pro bono volunteering, which takes a skill that is used every day in your job and applies it to work to address a complex social or environmental cause.

Points of Light suggests that skills-based volunteering comes in all shapes and sizes, including[2]:

  • Individual volunteers, corporate paid/unpaid volunteers, loaned executives, interns
  • Projects completed in a day; short, medium or longterm projects
  • Activities performed during working hours or on individual time
  • Planned in advance or spontaneous projects such as disaster response
  • Application of all types of skills and talents from professional experience to hobbies
  • Content from nonprofit infrastructure efficiency effort to direct “in the field” projects
  • Local impact to national and international

Language is important. Let’s not use it carelessly and devalue volunteering, but with thought and clarity to shine a light on the contribution of all those who give their time to good causes.

  1. Both Reach and Career Volunteer have helpful definitions of skilled volunteering on their websites.  ↩

  2. Note that whilst Realized Worth do specialise in CSR and employee volunteering they do make clear that skills-based volunteering is not limited to this area of work.  ↩

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Five tips for recruiting volunteers

Regular readers will know I mainly use this blog to look at topical or important issues facing the volunteering field. Every now and again I like to throw in a more practical, how to, post so here are five top tips when it comes to recruiting volunteers.

1. Target

A big mistake people make is to recruit by indicating that anyone could do the role you want volunteers for. This is sometimes called warm-body recruitment because the message put out is that anyone can volunteer, so long as they are alive.

It’s a technique that can work but is only really appropriate for roles where really the only criteria for being a good volunteer is you have a pulse. For any other roles, target, target, target.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • What do you want the volunteer to do? It’s a question that’s often ignored or very little time gets spent on it. Make sure you give proper attention to the work you want volunteers to do so you can answer the next question.

  • Who would be the ideal volunteer for this role? If you need a driver, then you want people who can drive and who probably have a clean licence. Maybe they also need access to a car. If the driving is to collect furniture for a charity shop then the person probably also needs to be fit and healthy to cope with the lifting. Get as a specific as possible. Avoid saying, anyone can do it. That may be the case but if you segment that broad audience into categories you will be better placed to answer the final question.

  • Where are you likely to find them? Avoid the old staples like advertising in doctors’ surgeries and libraries unless you think the ideal volunteer is likely to be found there. To continue our driver example, why would you want a driver who’s at the doctors or think you’ll find drivers hanging out at the library? Where might you find fit and healthy drivers? If you need them during the day, where might they be?

2. Ask

Once you’ve got your target group identified, do not forget to actually ask them. Sounds stupid I know but research consistently shows that people who don’t volunteer feel like they haven’t been asked to give time.

Ask, ask, ask.

Keeping asking.

And when you’re done, ask some more.

Don’t just recruit a couple of times a year. I may see that recruitment call but not be available then. Three months later when I can give you some time you’re not asking and I’ve forgotten you ever did.

3. Sell

Please, no adverts for volunteers that say, “Help! We need volunteers”, or “Help! We urgently need volunteers”. That is all too common an approach and it stands out from all others forms of advertising which explain how buying a product will make us fitter, happier, healthier, more attractive etc..

Sell your volunteer opportunity like a business would sell its products. Focus on the benefits of someone volunteering, not the features. When we buy something we don’t just look at what it can do but how it will help us. Same with volunteering - show people how volunteering will meet their needs not just tell them what they will do or how desperate your are for help.

Oh and please don’t say “Make A Difference” when recruiting. Everyone says that. Why would I make more of a difference with your volunteer programme than someone else’s? If you want to say your volunteers will make a difference then say what difference they will make and how it will be of benefit to them.

4. Respond

At this point nobody has actually become a volunteer. All you’ve done it clarify what needs doing, who would be the ideal person to do that and communicated your offer to them. Hopefully people will respond. Hopefully the ‘right’ people will respond, saving you countless hours wading through unsuitable applications.

What happens when they do?

Do they get a speedy response (including outside usual working hours) thanking them for their interest in volunteering, explaining the next steps and being clear about timeframes? Or do they hear nothing as their enquiry vanishes into an over-full inbox until someone get rounds to responding, maybe a week or two down the line? Do they get a friendly voice on the phone or might a disinterested colleague answer who doesn’t even know about the organisation’s need for volunteers?

Far too many times potential volunteers get the disinterested colleague or the wait for days for an email reply. Volunteer Managers then claim nobody wants to volunteer or it’s getting harder to recruit.

Put simply, if you are going to ask for some of people’s precious spare time make absolutely sure you have the capacity to provide great customer service[1] to them when they do get in touch. Make use of simple tools like out of office email and voicemail messages so people instantly know when you’ll reply. Check out volunteer management software that can automatically email people who apply with a welcome message - we recommend Better Impact.

5. Scale of engagement

The days of people signing up to regular, long-term volunteering on day one are pretty much gone. People don’t thrill to that kind of commitment anymore. This is often misinterpreted as the days of long-term, committed volunteering being over.

I disagree.

We can get people to make the kind of regular commitments we want but we have to be patient and plan for it. We offer a scale of engagement, with regular, committed, long-term volunteering at one end and shorter term, bite-sized, easy to access opportunities at the other. We then start them at the easy end and, as we get to know them, we try and encourage them up the scale. It may take weeks, months or even years but some of the volunteers will climb the scale to give you the committed service you desire.

By the way, this approach can also be great if your volunteers have to be DBS / criminal record checked before they start volunteering. If you have some quick, easy, time limited opportunities available they can get stuck into those whilst the result of the check is awaited.

So, there you have it, five quick tips on recruiting volunteers.

If you’d like to get better at volunteer recruitment then Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd can help. Get in touch today for more information.

Now it’s over to you. What are your top tips? Please share them below.

  1. For more thoughts on customer service and volunteer management take a look at my previous blogs on the topic. You might also want to read more of my writing on recruitment.  ↩

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The implications of the Olive Cooke case are so much bigger than fundraising

On 20 May 2015 a story broke in the British newspaper The Daily Mail that has been making big waves for UK based charities. It was the tale of Olive Cooke, a volunteer who sold poppies for the Royal British Legion for 76 years but who killed herself, apparently in part due to feeling hounded by charities asking her for money.

“Mrs Cooke, from the Fishponds area of Bristol, dedicated 76 years of her life to raising money for the Royal British Legion and is believed to have sold around 30,000 poppies. She also supported numerous charities and at one point received 267 charity letters in one month asking for cash, leading to suggestions the hounding for money pushed her to take her own life.”

Olive Cooke, 92, who jumped to her death into Avon Gorge after suffering long term issues with depression, an inquest heard today 

Mrs Cooke’s family have been reported as saying that “the amount of contact from charities was starting to escalate and get slightly out of control, and the phone calls were beginning to get intrusive, but there is no blame or suggestion that this was a reason for her death” but this has not stopped the media and politicians from arguing hard that fundraising self-regulation is not working. Queue lots of hand-wringing, discussion, debate and promised action within bodies such the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB), Institute of Fundraising (IoF) and occasional contribution from NCVO, ACEVO and the like.

Fundraising does indeed have some lessons to learn from this case. Self-regulation isn’t perfect, improvements do need to be made but, frankly, nobody within the system has ever claimed it to be perfect. Having spent six years as a member of the IoF Standards Committee I have seen the development of fundraising self-regulation from the inside. I can personally testify that issues which at first appear simple and obvious are rarely so and that those calling for quick and easy solutions simply reveal their ignorance of the fundraising world.

But this blog is not a defence of fundraising and attempts by fundraisers to self-regulate. No, my fear is that by following the tragic death of Mrs Cooke with a myopic focus on fundraising, the voluntary sector (third sector, civil society or whatever you want to call it) will miss some key lessons that should be learnt.

Lessons that speak to the fundamental nature of professional [1] charities in the 21st century.

Lessons that arguably have a more profound impact on public trust than whether the mechanics of fundraising self-regulation are completely effective (if that were even an achievable or realistic goal).

You see in all the reporting and subsequent discussion & debate about the implications of Mrs Cooke’s death, nobody in the sector seems to be placing any value on the 76 years of committed volunteering service she gave to the Royal British Legion. These many years of service get barely a passing reference in the developing narrative about what lessons can be learnt.

I believe this speaks volumes about the current state of British professional charities. Charities where the donated hour of a volunteer is given subordinate status to the donated pound of a donor.

Look at the language there.

Donor is someone who gives money. Giving is the act of giving money. Time doesn’t factor. Giving time doesn’t count. Who cares if Mrs Cooke had 76 years service as a volunteer, so long as she upped her donations by a few pounds a week [2].

Charities have all kinds of resources at their disposal to achieve their missions. The moment any mission driven, non-profit organisation sees money as the main or sole driver of them bringing about social change is the moment it becomes no different to a for-profit corporation.

Businesses have to have money to grow, to develop, to produce, to serve etc.. Charities do not. Sure, money is nice and it allows us to do things we might not otherwise do, but it is not all there is.

21st century professional charities have to accept that people are getting less and less tolerant of being asked to give more and more money when they have less and less to spare. They have to develop and strengthen alternative ways of resourcing their work, letting go of outdated orthodoxies that money is all they need.

Volunteering is one such alternative resources and I would of course argue needs to taken far more seriously. In fact that is a regular theme of my blogging as frequent visitors to this blog and my writing for Third Sector online will know. But it needs to go further than that. An attitude shift across the sector is needed, not just amongst fundraisers.

For example, if senior managers push fundraisers to generate more and more income because those managers have no concept of how anything can be achieved unless it is paid for by cold hard cash, then it is unsurprising if the public feel might hounded for donations.

If staff are wasteful with money (as sadly they can be) then that contributes to the need to generate more and more income.

If staff refuse to consider working with any / more volunteers, insisting that only paid people can do anything meaningful in a charity, then they also contribute to pressure to raise more funds.

Fundraisers alone cannot be held responsible nor can they be the only ones expected to learn from this. If they are then I fear the sector will learn little from the sad death of Olive Cooke.

  1. I stress professional here because when we talk about ‘the sector’ we tend to be talking about the small but high profile minority of charities who have fundraised incomes and paid staff. The vast majority of good causes have little or no income and operate solely through volunteer effort.  ↩

  2. I should point out that the Royal British Legion whom Mrs Cooke volunteered for has not be accused of being one of the charities who pursued her for donations. No link between her volunteering for them and them pursuing her for money is drawn or implied.  ↩

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The volunteer is always right? Wrong!

I've recently been reviewing my training material on dealing with problem behaviour by volunteers. It's not my favourite course to run because I much prefer to work with clients to help them try and avoid problems with their volunteers.

Sadly, however, dealing with problem behaviour remains a common issue when it comes to working with volunteers. There can be all sorts of causes for this.

I've seen problem behaviour in volunteers as a result of organisations focusing so much on processes around volunteering that they fail to remember that volunteering is a people business and thus fail to treat volunteers as individuals. Instead, volunteers are viewed almost like widgets at the end of a process, faceless units of production who should keep quiet and get on with things.

I've seen problem behaviour in volunteers as a result of organisations slashing the resourcing for the volunteer programme, leaving no capacity to engage and support people effectively yet assuming that volunteers will do as they did before. They are free after all, aren't they?

I've also seen problem behaviour in volunteers as a result of staff (including volunteer managers) treating volunteers with kid gloves. I see it in agencies that will not challenge problem behaviour in case the volunteer leaves, in agencies that think they can't hold volunteers to account for what they do and in agencies that think you can never sack a volunteer. In these organisations, volunteers are often seen as always being right.


If we don't hold volunteers to account for what they achieve they we effectively say we don't care what volunteers do because it has no value!

If we say we can't fire volunteers (and that should always be a last resort) then we effectively say any behaviour by volunteers is acceptable.

The reason I was prompted to write this post was an article I read recently from a customer service blog I subscribe to. The article is entitled "The customer is not always right, but is always a customer". I encourage you to go and read it now but replace the word 'customer' with the word 'volunteer' and think about the article in the context of your volunteer programme, then come back to this post.

American colleague Jayne Cravens has written about why people often see no complaints from volunteer as a measure of success. In the same way I think we mainly see problem behaviour by volunteers as a bad thing and the absence of problem behaviour as a good thing. Yet as argue (and I've made minor edits to make it fit our volunteering context):

"Negative feedback is the best place to start working to make your organization or team even better. Some people just never complain, they won’t say what bothers them, even if something really does. A volunteer complaint, expressed to you or not, is an opportunity for a competitor to take your volunteer. A volunteer who is bothered by something you do or don’t do, will leave the door open for someone else to try and meet their wants and needs." 
"Be open to the complaints, the negative feedback, the upset people. Show them you care, ask them to be involved in the process of making things better. Get ideas from them on what would make their experience perfect. Then get to work on making it happen. You’ll make yourself better, your team better, your product, good, or service better. And in the process, create loyal, committed, passionate volunteers who believe in your cause because they know you truly care about them, not just the time they give."
So to summarise, volunteers are not always right. Sometimes they can be a royal pain in the butt. Yet every time you get a 'problem volunteer' situation you encounter a brilliant opportunity to learn, develop your programme and make volunteering with your organisation an even better experience.

Now isn't that a better way to look at the issue of problem behaviour by volunteers?

See also - The lessons for volunteer programmes from customer service

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

My thoughts on the Australian National Review of the Definition of Volunteering

The following blog post is taken from a contribution I was asked to make to Volunteering Australia's recent consultation on changing their national definition of volunteering. The original can be found on the Volunteering Australia website.

I'm sharing my contribution to Australia's review following my article for Third Sector online in March 2015 where I called for a similar review here in the UK. I think it's important we re-visit these issues more regularly than we are doing but they cut to the core of what we as a society and sector stand for in volunteering. Because, as the old adage goes, if we don't stand for something we will fall for anything.
I commend Volunteering Australia for holding this consultation on the Australian definition of volunteering. In our ever changing world where nothing stands still for very long, to still be using a definition that is almost 20 years old is quite amazing.
Much has changed in just the last few years and the time is right to take a fresh look at an issue often viewed as obscure, irrelevant to all but the most conceptually minded people and more philosophical than practical. I couldn’t disagree with such views more: there is nothing as practical as a good theory!
In determining a new definition of volunteering I think a fundamental question needs to be asked: What do we want this definition to do for us? What is it’s purpose? Who will benefit from it? OK, that’s three questions but you get my point.
For example, if we want to come up with a standard way of measuring volunteering across multiple organisations then we develop a nice, easy definition that constrains volunteering within measurable bounds. The International Labor Organisation has sought to do this with its’ efforts to standardise the financial measurement of volunteering around the globe.
Unfortunately, in such an approach we reduce volunteering to less than it’s whole. Problems subsequently arise. If we see volunteering in such small terms we miss out on the richness of the larger scope and diversity of voluntary activity.
Much of the debate in the excellent issues paper which accompanies Volunteering Australia’s current consultation focuses on the advantages to the establishment of a new definition. By that I mean that many views are put forward about how bodies such as government, Volunteer Resource Centres, State peak bodies, Volunteer Involving Organisations, Volunteer Managers and others would benefit from a new definition.
Widening the definition of volunteering widens the constituency existing infrastructure bodies can claim, increasing their influence and strengthening their argument for better support.
Widening the definition of volunteering can widen the influence Volunteer Managers have, as noted above, and can position the profession more positively within Australian society.
Do we want the new Australian definition of volunteering to suit the definers (my concept of establishment) or the nation as a whole? The issues paper acknowledges that, “the current definitions does not reflect how significant numbers of Australians give their time, nor is it well aligned to the Australian community’s view of how they ‘volunteer’ ”.
So my question is, should the purpose of new definition be to help Australians see that the way they give time already is in fact volunteering?
I admit I am a fan of this approach. In helping others to see that their time giving is volunteering we raise awareness of the diversity and breadth of volunteering.
If more people see themselves as volunteers more people take an interest in volunteering issues – more people ask their politicians about volunteering, engage in dialogue with others using the v-word and in doing so change our associations with the concept volunteering to fit 21st century society.
The establishment will surely benefit from this although such benefits may take longer to realise as the new definition has to permeate into Australian culture and across society.
So what could such a definition be? I always plumb for the one articulated by the late American volunteerism thinker, writer and leader, Ivan Scheier:
“Volunteering is doing more than you have to, because you want to, in a cause you consider good”.
Ivan’s definition is a masterpiece of brevity, openness and clarity all in one sentence. It does not need a further set of principles to explain (a concept I’ve always found odd, surely a definition should be definitive?) and allows me to define if what I do is volunteering or not. It is not bound by sectoral boundaries. It includes the concept of free will, as the individual defines it. It doesn’t subjugate volunteering as a second class activity after paid work as many others do.
Of course, Ivan’s definition isn’t perfect. No definition will be. But it is elegant in its simplicity.
I commend it to you Australia for your consideration.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

What I think about the latest Tory proposal on volunteering

Last Friday (10 April 2015) David Cameron announced that if the Conservatives win the UK General Election on 7th May 2015 they would introduce a new legal right for employees in the public sector and large private firms to have three days a year of paid leave in order to volunteer.

Recognising the benefits of employee volunteering, many groups were quick to endorse the proposals.

CIPD (the professional body for Human Resources) welcomed the idea as did the Confederation of British Industry.

Amusingly, the trade union movement - who are usually so quick to criticise volunteers as the enemy of paid workers - quickly backtracked on their initial cautious welcome when it became apparent volunteering for a union would not be considered under the scheme.

Many in the Voluntary and Community Sector have also warmly welcomed Cameron’s proposal.

NCVO’s Chief Executive Sir Stuart Etherington blogged on why it would be good for business whilst Kristen Stephenson helpfully outlined why employee volunteering can be a good thing more broadly.

The Charities Aid Foundation also gave their endorsement as did the sector Chief Executives body ACEVO, whose Director of Policy, Asheem Singh, was quoted in Civil Society saying:

“This is exciting news – it recognises the crucial role of charities in building a better society. The workplace is a new frontier for social action, and this new legal right will help support a new generation of socially responsible citizens.”

However, at an event on Monday some senior fundraisers (not volunteer managers, fundraisers!) called into question the viability of the Conservative proposal whilst both CSV and Timebank have made the point that it needs properly thinking though and resourcing if it is to work.

The Association of Volunteer Managers have said nothing.

So what do I think?

Let’s start with the positive. To an extent I agree that anything which promotes and encourages volunteering is to be welcomed. However, I have two big caveats to this.

First, the solution is not always more volunteers. As I said when I blogged on the Labour Party’s proposals for volunteering back in 2014:

“We are concerned Labour are falling into the common trap of assuming that more volunteers is a measure of success. Any professional leader and manager of volunteers would be quite clear that if an organisation’s mission can be fulfilled effectively with ten volunteers then to recruit 100 to do the same task is wasteful and inefficient.”

Second, initiatives to increase the supply of volunteers completely fail to recognise that the demand needs to be there for these people. Meaningful opportunities need creating to accommodate all these additional time givers and ensure they have a great experiences as volunteers. A shortcut to disaster would be to engage loads of new people, manage them badly, give them a terrible experience and send them on their way. Do you imaging many (any?) of them would be keen to volunteer again? Moreover, as the Boston Globe highlighted recently, employee volunteering can be more of a burden than a help to many good causes.

So, if that’s the positive (!), what about the negative?

First, the Conservative proposals are yet another example of a political party policy initiative on volunteering that looks good but fails to acknowledge that investment is needed to make it happen. Volunteering is freely given but not cost free. As I just noted, if all these additional volunteers are going to come forward opportunities need creating, organisational cultures need to be changed to be more open towards volunteers and resource (time, money, will to act etc.) needs finding to organise it all and maximise the potential impact.

One of the most worrying aspects of the Tory announcement is the failure of most of the main sector bodies to even acknowledge that for the idea to work something needs to change. Whether that something is the attitude of leaders in the sector to properly understand and support volunteering, or it is funding for more volunteer management resource, or both, nobody except Timebank or CSV appears to have even raised this issue. Worse, the professional association for volunteer managers has been totally silent.

Second, and related, is the issue of infrastructure. It has long been accepted that good employee volunteering happens when a competent broker gets involved. This broker negotiates the needs of the good cause with the aims of the employer and matches the two up to best mutual benefit. 

Sadly, the last government’s austerity agenda slashed funding for national and local volunteering infrastructure to the point where the capacity to deliver something like Cameron’s new proposals barely exists compared to five years ago. Not only have the organisations closed or significantly downsized but much of the knowledge and expertise built up over many years has left the roles that were made redundant. 

Perhaps there is no better illustration of the short-sightedness of dismantling the sector's support infrastructure whilst expecting volunteering to flourish.

Third, and finally, what is acceptable volunteering? Set aside the old debate about whether paid time off for volunteering is actually volunteering (and I think it is - is paid time off for holiday not holiday?) but the position on union volunteering makes it clear that the Conservatives view some volunteering as more valid than other ways of giving time. This is not a new issue but one that rarely gets thought through. 

Consider these two previous examples:

  1. The Local Government Association (LGA) proposing that people get a discount on their Council Tax if they volunteer, an idea that seems to have stalled when it became apparent how much record keeping and administration is required to assess and approve what it valid volunteering and how much time people give to those causes.
  2. The last Labour government’s wizard wheeze to speed up citizenship applications for those immigrants who volunteer, an idea which collapsed for the exact same reason as the LGA’s idea.

So what will constitute valid volunteering under Cameron’s grand new volunteering plan? Who will assess and approve this? Who will record how much of those three days gets used? What will happen to people’s legal right to time off to volunteer for other causes? These questions are all unanswered and until they are addressed I cannot endorse the idea at all.

Of course these proposals may only see the light of day if we get a Conservative government on May 8th. Given the closeness of this election that seems an unlikely outcome. I can see the idea being dropped as quickly as possible in any coalition negotiations. 

So maybe we shouldn’t worry too much about the Tories and their new idea, but we definitely should worry at the response - or lack thereof - of the majority of sector bodies. This is the first chance in a post-Volunteering England age to see how our national infrastructure representatives speak up for the realities of volunteer management. I think it's pretty clear that with a couple of notable exceptions (CSV and Timebank) they failed the test. 

Let’s hope they do better with whatever government we do get.

They couldn’t do much worse could they?

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Whisper it quietly, Jimmy Saville was a volunteer

We are all too aware of the recent celebrity child abuse scandals in the UK, in particular the appalling case of Jimmy Saville. Saville abused hundreds of people over many years with many a blind eye being turned to his behaviour by the media, police, regulators and other official bodies.

The world of volunteer management has escaped lightly. Few have sought to draw the connection between Saville’s behaviour and his status as a volunteer. It has had passing mention in the media coverage but scrutiny of volunteering has been scant.

Just one instance has come across my radar, an article in The Guardian at the end of February 2015, which highlights the Lampard Review of the NHS in regard to Saville and in particular the concerns about volunteer management in the NHS.

The article notes that Lampard highlights four key issues.

First, that the risk to patients of being abused could increase as more volunteers are brought in to work in an increasingly cash-strapped health service.

“They [volunteers] undertake a much wider variety of roles and often have much closer contact with patients than in the past.”

Second, that volunteer management isn’t taken seriously enough at a senior level within the NHS.

“Many NHS volunteer programmes are not managed and overseen at a senior level and do not have the management resources they need.”

Third, the need for effective screening of volunteers, with Lampard reportedly calling on the NHS to amend regulations to make sure staff and volunteers were subjected to criminal records checks every three years.

Finally, The Guardian says that: 

“Lampard also raised concerns about the lack of any cohesive structure within NHS hospitals for managing visits by celebrities, important fundraisers and donors despite the publicity around Savile’s decades of abuse.”

These are not four discrete issues, they are inter-related, so let me try and unpick them a bit.

To start with, an increase in volunteers within any organisation does not automatically increase risk. What does often increase the risk is poorly thought out reasons and strategy for volunteer involvement (often a consequence of a lack of strategic management engagement in the volunteer programme) and ineffective screening, often borne out of poorly resourced volunteer management structures.

Good volunteer programmes don’t just take anyone off the street and put them in unsupervised contact with vulnerable people. We should not assume that just because volunteers are unpaid they are incompetent or inherently a risky proposition. But good programmes need resourcing if they are to do their job properly and they need to be properly integrated into the whole organisation. This requires CEOs, boards and the like to properly understand and engage with volunteering as a strategic priority, not just say how essential volunteers are as they issue warmly worded statements in Volunteers’ Week.

This is perhaps the most fundamental issue Lampard highlights and one that needs action not just within the NHS but in many Volunteer Involving Organisations across all sectors, including the Voluntary and Community Sector. 

The point made by Lampard about celebrities and major donors not being properly supervised and their involvement not properly structured in the NHS is a great example. 

Throughout my career in the voluntary sector I have come across fundraisers, CEOs and senior managers who dismiss out of hand any suggestion that good volunteer management practices should be applied to the involvement of high profile supporters, despite their status as volunteers. Why? Because often they see volunteer management as concerned with the nice to haves, the little old ladies making the tea, and not with the important work of more serious concerns like celebrity endorsement of the cause. 

The Jimmy Saville situation highlights the stupidity of this and the irresponsible thinking behind it. To continue such a train of thought borders on the negligent. Yet still that line is seen as acceptable in fundraising departments and sector senior teams. It is surely time for this to be challenged!

As a quick aside, for some insightful and intelligent thinking on the issues of celebrities as volunteers I commend you to Eileen Hammond’s excellent book for the Directory of Social Change, “Patrons, Presidents and Personalities”.

So far I have highlighted issues that I think the Lampard review gets right. Senior management needs to take seriously the strategic involvement of volunteers, resource it properly and organisations need to stop seeing celebrity volunteers as having a protected, special status that allows them to operate outside of existing good practice.

I want to conclude with one aspect I think Lampard gets wrong, calling for the Department of Health to change regulations so staff and volunteers undergo DBS checks every three years. I’m not going to go into huge detail here because I’ve blogged on this previously. My concern is that the sole focus on DBS checks will not result in better safety for NHS patients who have volunteers assigned to them. Jimmy Saville would have always passed a DBS check because ehe was never caught. Robust screening goes way beyond a criminal record check and so should this recommendation from Lampard.

Returning to where I started, the scandal of Jimmy Saville and others being allowed to abuse people for so long behind the screen of their celebrity status is rightly abhorrent to us all. That it was allowed to continue for so long is deplorable. Yet thank goodness volunteer management has not been thrust to the fore of these stories. I fear the field would have been exposed for its failings, mainly a consequence not of volunteer managers themselves but of the layers of management in Volunteer Involving Organisations across all sectors who fail to see volunteering as a strategic priority. 

Let’s hope it doesn't take another scandal like Saville for that situation to change and volunteer involvement to be taken seriously by those who should know better.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A challenge to change

Last week saw the much anticipated (by me anyway!) publication of the final report of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing.

The report is a joy to read, presented in an engaging way and running to a mere thirteen pages. It is also, in my humble opinion, essential reading for anyone working in the voluntary sector and / or working with volunteers.

For me, the following quotes from the report highlight the importance of Volunteer Involving Organisations looking in new ways at the volunteering potential of people of all ages, but especially the baby boomer generation:

The reserve army of “little old ladies” (and men) upon whom so many voluntary organisations depend, will be juggling ever more demands
on their time. Informed by their more varied cultural, educational and professional backgrounds, future generations will have different expectations of, and attitudes towards, their later lives.

Our sense of community may change, with the local less relevant as global loyalties are easier to maintain.

All these changes will disrupt society and also the way charities work - ”business as usual” is not an option.

Older people have historically volunteered in large numbers, so the retirement of the baby boomer generation could offer the voluntary sector a boost in numbers and talent. However volunteering will have to “compete” against increasing demands on people’s time and resources—including paid employment, caring for parents, spouses and/or grandchildren, as well as travel and leisure.

We need new types of flexible, skilled volunteer roles and consultancy-style internships, which will be attractive to people looking for new opportunities
to use their skills in later life.

The four generation “4G” workforce should be the norm across the sector, with young and old working together.

The full report can be downloaded from the Commission website (opens a link to a pdf document) and whilst it's origins are in the UK it is both of relevance and interest to other nations too.

There are huge challenges resulting from the work of the Commission. For example:

  • How can organisations make the necessary changes to maximise the potential of volunteers  when understanding of and genuine support (the kind that goes beyond mere warm words) for volunteering at a strategic level in many organisations is, to put it kindly, extremely poor?

  • How can leaders and managers of volunteers develop their programmes to engage people in new ways when the resourcing their receive from their organisations is so poor and seen as such a low priority?

  • Will many in the sector finally see the need to break down traditional silos, for example between fundraising, volunteering, membership etc., so that properly integrated supporter journeys become the norm not the exception?

I spend a lot of time helping organisations of all sizes think through issues like this and reflect on what steps they can take. If you would like to discuss how I can help you understand and tackle these issues please get in touch.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Three reasons why it’s time to stop talking about amateurs and professionals

For many years I’ve heard and read variations on the same theme: Volunteers are just well meaning amateurs. If you want something done properly then it needs to be handed over to a professional.

It’s a position used as a justification for not giving volunteers meaningful things to do. They’re amateurs, they’d just mess it up.

It’s an argument used to combat fears of job displacement. How many times have we read in recent years that library services will suffer if volunteers are left do the work of professional librarians?

It’s a way of thinking that perpetuates a division in Volunteer Involving Organisations, between the paid staff - who are seen as essential - and the volunteers - who are seen as a nice to have optional extra, a bit like metallic paint on a new car.

We need to stop this thinking now more than ever. Any time we encounter such views we need to start actively challenging them.

I want to share three reasons why.

The first relates to definitions.

Whilst it is true that the word amateur can be used to denote competence, its primary definition is one that refers to an activity undertaken without pay. Professional on the other hand suggests either that someone belongs to a specific profession (a doctor, lawyer or teacher for example) or is being paid for the work they do.

So, whilst some may suggest volunteers are incompetent by calling them amateurs, the labelling of paid staff as professionals carries with it no assumption of competence.

It is one of the biggest myths I encounter in my work that if someone is paid they become more competent. Similarly that the more someone is paid the more competent they must be.

I have worked with highly competent volunteers as well as incompetent ones. I have worked with highly incompetent paid staff as well as competent ones. I bet you have too. Never did someone's level of remuneration effect how good they were at the job.

Second, labelling volunteers as well meaning amateurs, and therefore implying they are incompetent, is just lazy thinking that dodges the need to consider properly how we effectively engage people in our organisations.

Let’s go back to the library example I mentioned above. At no point does anyone who has criticised the idea of volunteer run libraries ever appeared to stop and considered that perhaps there might be very well training, highly competent professional librarians who might want to volunteer to help run these libraries. Perhaps they are retired and want to get involved in their field again? Perhaps they are non-practicing librarians but want time away from their non-library day jobs? Perhaps they are unemployed and/ or returning to work and want to get up-to-speed again?

Nope, straight away the assumption is that we’ll just take anyone we can find and throw them in at the deep end to run a library. If we did that then of course professional librarians would be a better option, but would any competent Volunteer Manager ever do such a thing? No! We spend time finding the right people, selecting them carefully for the right roles, training them up and supporting them to do the best work possible.

Finally, the issues we face in society are simply too big for any one pay category to deal with. No Voluntary and Community Sector organisation is ever going to have all the money to pay people to do all the work that needs doing. That’s truer now then ever. A team effort is needed, one where paid and unpaid ‘staff’ are engaged and deployed most effectively to work together to achieve an organisation’s mission.

We can no longer afford to waste energy discrediting volunteers as well meaning but incompetent amateurs whilst automatically assuming paid staff are always competent and the solution to everything. Instead we need to embrace the passion & potential of volunteers and employees, amateurs and professionals, and harness that for the good causes we serve.

Anything less is at best wasteful, and at worst negligent, behaviour in the stewardship of our resources when so many are in need of our support.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Volunteer rights and the scope of the Charity Commission

For this posting we are really happy to welcome visiting blogger and our former colleague at Volunteering England, Mike Locke, who shares with us his views on the ongoing issue of volunteer rights following a recent report from the Charity Commission (England & Wales).


The Charity Commission has recently made clear its position on allegations of unfair treatment of volunteers.  Its Operational Case Report regarding St John Ambulance saw the issue as a matter of the charity’s administration, such that the Charity Commission would only get involved if governance procedures had not been followed or if the case threatened to bring the charity into disrepute.

This may not grab the headlines, but it’s helpful because during the long-running attempts to resolve volunteer rights there has been a question why complaints made by volunteers to the Charity Commission have been regarded as outside its scope.

The actual case here concerning, in its full name, The Priory of England and The Islands of the Order of St John was that the charity adopted a regional structure on grounds of finance, quality and impact, and consistency. However, according to a “senior volunteer” in the Telegraph newspaper in 2011: “If the structure is changed … what incentive is there for local people to volunteer and raise money?” In resisting restructuring, a small number of volunteers were “disciplined”.  The case sounds like the classic dilemma which other national charities have faced of tensions between national and local control – and I’m in no position to comment, only sympathise.

The Charity Commission looked into the case given “ongoing complaints” and found: “It is regrettable when disciplinary proceedings have to be brought against volunteers and we recognise that the events brought considerable distress to those involved. We did not see anything to suggest that the charity acted in a way that would bring the charity into disrepute such that the commission should become involved in these matters.”

The point about disrepute echoes the concern of Lord Hodgson in his review of charity law where he warned that treatment of volunteers could reduce public trust in charities. He thought responsibility should lie with charities’ self-regulation but raised the question whether there should be an independent body for external referral.

Following the Volunteer Rights Inquiry, I chaired the Call to Action Progress Group (2011-2014) when I worked for Volunteering England and NCVO. Our final report reviewed, without finding a consensus, the question of whether there was a need for an external regulatory system or whether that would be disproportionate and the problem tackled through good management practice. We recommended organisations sign-up to the 3R Promise (get it Right, offer Reconciliation and take Responsibility) which had been formulated by the Inquiry.

My perception is that volunteering organisations are more conscious of the problem and widely have instituted good practice – including, to my knowledge, St John Ambulance.

But the issue of volunteer rights won’t go away. A small number of volunteers are unfairly treated, heart-breakingly so, and – at least prima facie – in ways that offend public policy, let alone charity governance.

So, I believe, the question remains whether there is a need for a procedure or institution independent of volunteering organisations? Is the Charity Commission’s position, as clarified, sufficient? And if not it, who might take the role, and how?