Making a case for changing the culture of volunteering

Web people volunteering

Susan Murray explains why something needs to be done to boost volunteering numbers in Scotland

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14th October 2015 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Last week the Scottish Volunteering Forum, launched Why Volunteering Matters – the Case for Change.

The response so far has been fantastic. 

We are a group of people passionate about volunteering and we want to collectively bring real change, talking and sharing is no longer enough. We need action.

The volunteering rate in Scotland has been static now for more than 10 years despite efforts by individuals and organisations to change it.

Making a case for changing the culture of volunteeringSusan Murray

Volunteering has not moved in people’s consciousness from something that is nice to do, to some that is essential for the wellbeing of individuals and society

There has also been little headway made in increasing the range of socio-economic groups undertaking voluntary activity. If your parents volunteer, you are more likely to volunteer and see it as a normal activity.

In terms of the third sector, we are interested in social justice and equality of opportunity for all. Volunteering is important because there are so many benefits, physically and mentally to individuals and communities. It’s simple not right that these benefits are only accessed by a certain section of the population.

We need action. We need real, long lasting cultural change.

Firstly, we don’t think people really understand why volunteering is important.

There is loads of research from around the world on the benefits of volunteering. If you Google the benefits of volunteering there are over 38 million results.

Volume and quality of evidence on why volunteering is a good thing, is not a problem.

But the evidence is simply not gaining traction with decision makers or the general population. People are not recognising the power of volunteering as a solution for preventing social problems.

It feels like volunteering has not moved in people’s consciousness from something that is nice to do to some that is essential for the wellbeing of individuals and society.

So the first part of Why Volunteering Matters - the case for change summarises the main benefits of volunteering in two handy diagrams. We hope these will increase understanding and help people to start conversations, whether that be with funders, policymakers or communities.

The second part of the document focusses on three areas we feel are critical to volunteering becoming a cultural norm.

There are asks of the third sector, government and other partners like corporates. Volunteering will not become a cultural norm if we work in a vacuum, we all need to play our part and where appropriate hold ourselves to account. 

Recently I heard research from one volunteering search websites which revealed more than 50% of potential volunteers contacting organisations don't receive a response. If you don’t need volunteers don’t advertise, if you do have the decency to respond to people who offer help. For organisations with paid staff, this means a point of contact that’s able to respond in a timely manner.

Only one of our asks targets a specific type of volunteering, rthis is employer supported volunteering. This is because the age group that shows the lowest rates of volunteering is 25-45 years old. This is when people’s lives are busiest with work and families - the biggest barrier to volunteering cited by this group is time.

We believe by changing the culture on employee supported volunteering and working differently we can increase this rate. Our first step is to start a discussion on what is meaningful for both sides. Currently many organisations are saying yes to activities like painting team challenges for which give corporate staff an opportunity to escape for a day but which rarely lead to a long-term relationship or funding.

If we continue as we are and volunteering remains static for another 10 years, we are all negligent.

What can you do? Read it. Share it. Talk about it. Do something to help bring change. 

Susan Murray is a member of the Scottish Volunteering Forum and assistant director of public affairs at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.