Volunteering or voluntold?

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Calum Irving, chief executive of Voluntary Action Scotland, explains why volunteering bodies across Scotland are rejecting the government's Community Work Placement scheme 

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8th July 2014 by TFN Guest 3 Comments

Calum Irving, chief executive, Voluntary Action Scotland

Calum Irving, chief executive, Voluntary Action Scotland

Keep volunteering voluntary. It’s a simple message and one that Voluntary Action Scotland wholeheartedly supports. 

That is why we are speaking out against the Community Work Placement scheme: a scheme that we believe undermines the very ethos of volunteering.

However, this is only part of the picture and is part of a worrying trend relating to volunteering.

The term 'voluntold' is emerging in the third sector and increasingly being used by our members – Scotland’s 32 third-sector interfaces. It describes the situation when a person has been referred to them for volunteering by agencies outwith the third sector (for example JobCentre Plus). They have effectively been told to volunteer in order to fulfil required components of a curriculum, course or a benefits entitlement. It makes life difficult for volunteer-involving organisations and puts an unacceptable strain on the person who has been voluntold. 

Volunteering is a public and social good which is highly valued by the volunteer and the wider community. There is a personal and social value that comes from wanting to do something to help

The practice is also damaging to many in the public sector who understand and support volunteering as a free-will activity (our work with schools and the Saltire awards for young people is thriving, for example).

It is our belief that when something is a prescribed mandatory activity, it is not volunteering. It crosses a clear line – that of the free will of the individual.

There’s so much to volunteering that we need to hang on to and make the most of. It is a public and social good which is highly valued by the volunteer and the wider community. There is a personal and social value that comes from wanting to do something to help or to challenge or to make change. 

It might be that we need to tighten up as a sector – as a country in fact – to have a more cohesive definition of volunteering that is supported amongst policy makers. It would help us establish clearer boundaries and allow all of us to make the most of Scotland’s volunteering potential. It’s not that we want to limit people’s own choices, rather that we should limit impositions upon a concept that we hold quite dear in Scotland. In fact we want to liberate that desire to do something.

As a sector supporting formal volunteering we are driven by values and must challenge when these come under attack. We have been pleased to see widespread support for our statement on Community Work Placements, with a number of our members adopting and endorsing it at a local level, and are proud to have supported the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign. Let’s continue to work as a sector to speak up for volunteering and help protect its ethos as a free will activity for the social good.

Calum Irving is chief executive of Voluntary Action Scotland, the national support body for local third-sector interfaces. @VA_Scotland

9th July 2014 by Rob Jackson

The problem is that by supporting the KVV campaign you are associating CWPs with volunteering which only the media have done so far. Government and everyone else is clear they are not volunteering. As a result the KVV campaign risks doing more harm than good, as I outline here http://robjacksonconsulting.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/three-ways-keep-volunteering-voluntary.htmlAs to the sector only embracing volunteering that is truly given as an act of free will, I see the point. At one level I agree, for example if some is punished for not volunteering. But where do we draw the line as to what is and isn't free will? Do we exclude any volunteering done as a consequence of peer pressure? How about volunteering where giving time is required but we have a choice of what we do? Or students who have no choice if they volunteer or not if they want a chance in the jobs market but where nobody is mandating such service by way of sanctions for not doing it?These are complex issues that require more than simplistic solutions.Authors Jayne Cravens and Martin Cowling give some cautions to volunteer managers in adopting this purist approach to volunteering in their excellent article http://www.e-volunteerism.com/quarterly/07jul/07jul-cowlingcravens

9th July 2014 by HomerJS

In reply to Rob Jackson I would make the following points, mainly to respond to your blog link.Firstly, to quote the official guidance demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge of how different the reality can be from the theory. Jobcentres do not operate in a trustworthy and consistent manner. An example of this is the denial of targets for sanctions.Secondly, the KVV is having an effect as the DWP are struggling to find enough supporting organisations.Thirdly, the risk to all volunteering mainly comes from allowing the replacement of paid work by volunteering. People who have been made redundant do not generally want to be then volunteering to do what was their paid job. It is the destruction of the job market that is the problem, where jobs are replaced by work placements, and that some people may be made to do an unpaid training placement in order to qualify for a low paid apprenticeship.The fact is that the damage to the charitable sector will come from unhappy donors, and also even more unhappy service users whose lives are being made more miserable with the active assistance of the very charities that claim to be there to help them.

14th July 2014 by Mary Donald

I have just written to my MP about this very question and explained to Volunteer Edinburgh why I am withdrawing all volunteer opportunities until our Board has discussed what to do about this. I have had a "volunteer" ring me in a panic because of being told to find some voluntary work. The relief when I agreed an interview was almost palpable. Returning bus fares is starting to cost my organisation dearly - we are a fairly new charity. There is no law that says we must refund fares but I just cannot condone young people being 'voluntold' then expecting them to pay for the privilege.