Why are we not valuing volunteering across the West Midlands?
In this article, Fidelis Navas (Founder and MD, Gamma Talent) explores the impact of volunteering across the region and poses the question of if we could be doing more to value the role of volunteers and to make it more coordinated across the region.
Why are we not valuing volunteering in the West Midlands?
If you work in the charity sector, you might have taken umbridge with my heading here. But I’m fine with that, I welcome it because I want to unsettle the sector. My subsequent questions for you are, are we enabling everyone to volunteer at our organisations? Do we champion the impact of volunteering? Are we reaching our potential when it comes to volunteer impact?
If volunteering isn’t on your professional radar, perhaps you’re less versed on the latest stats around volunteering. According to research conducted by NCVO, 16.3m people volunteered through a group, club or organisation in 2020. More than a quarter of the UK population were regularly involved in informal ways of volunteering and about half of us did so at least once in 2020/21.
This is brilliant news.
Let’s break this down a bit further: a survey commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in June 2020 found that 56% of those involved volunteering in formal (classified as regular commitment, with an organisation) and 72% of informal volunteering (classified as things like helping a neighbour go shopping or walking a friend’s dog) said they had started some or all of their current volunteering activities after the pandemic outbreak.
But on the flip side, organisations reported that volunteering had decreased in terms of number of volunteers, time spent and range of activities and intensity. However, this has started to recover during the subsequent easing of lockdown , presumably because restrictions were lifted and the take up of the vaccine. It also has affected sectors differently, with culture and arts organisations experiencing a much sharper decline in volunteers during the second lockdown – when museums and galleries were closed – than emergency and relief services, including food banks, that were deemed essential and open throughout the pandemic.
The Centre for Third Sector Research, based at the University of Birmingham passionately explains, ‘While the COVID-19 pandemic was turning everyday life upside down, one constant has been the contribution by individual volunteers and voluntary organisations to help those in need – from spontaneously formed mutual aid groups delivering food parcels on the eerily quiet streets in the early days, to teams facilitating the biggest vaccine rollout in history’.
Thinking about how volunteering operates in your world, can I ask:
- Do you or anyone you know volunteer your time for someone outside your family (this is classed as volunteering by the National Centre for Volunteering Organisations – NCVO)?
- Has anyone from a charity or non-profit organisation ever directly asked you to help out on a regular or a one-off basis?
The following question is what I really want us to debate:
If you wanted to volunteer and live in the West Midlands, do you know where you could find a volunteering activity to suit your preferences (such as hours available, regularity, type of activity)?
If you were looking to volunteer and didn’t have connections into the charity sector, would you have a clue where to start? Perhaps a google search? I’ve just done one and ended up on a volunteering search platform for a town in the region, but there are no summaries given about each volunteering opportunity and the tech is pretty clunky. It also refers you to their twitter feed, and the most recent tweet is from the Summer of 2018!
But at least some of the towns in our region have a dedicated volunteer resource to help you in your search (I’ll list them at the end of the blog). In Birmingham, there is nothing other than a notice board courtesy of Birmingham Voluntary Services Council (BVSC). The council advises you to visit a national database which is terrible (hence why I’m not listing it here I wouldn’t want to waste your time).
There are endless possibilities for volunteering placements, charities are crying out for help all across the region. But there is no joint effort, no co-ordinated approach, putting the onus on the wannabee volunteer to persevere and try to find an opportunity that suits and motivates them.
My worry is too many people give up. And I don’t blame them. Yes the numbers of people volunteering look good on paper, but are we really seeing diverse representation in our volunteers? Case in point is trustee boards – the average trustee is white, male and over 50.
Is it that there is no money in volunteering? Almost two million volunteers supported by the National Lottery Community Fund have contributed £4bn to the UK economy over the past three years, according to research published in July 2021. 13,000 volunteers are needed for the Commonwealth Games. 5000 volunteers at Coventry City of Culture. And how much are these two events meant to bring to the region’s economy? Apparently Birmingham will get a £1.2 billion economic uplift as a result of hosting the Games, as well as an additional £500 million in a one-off construction benefit. Coventry will earn £60m.
So are you telling me there isn’t a financial incentive to promote volunteering more effectively than we are currently doing? And don’t let the whole point of volunteering being something you do for free be a red herring in not wanting to invest it in.
I can’t help but feel we are really missing out as a region by not championing volunteering and working together as one to attract, recruit and retain the general public in these phenomenal act of caring for others.
Someone very wise said to me at the start of my career in the charity sector, volunteering makes you rich. If you’re reading this blog and want to explore possible options about maximising on the region’s volunteering needs, do get in touch.
All this leads me to think that we are missing out here, but not approaching volunteering effort together. Links to the region’s various volunteering platforms:
Coventry and Warwickshire https://www.vcconnectsystem.org.uk/WCAVAVMS2/VmsAccount/Login
About Fidelis Navas
Fidelis Navas is a charity-focussed strategist, with fundraising and communications as a core skill. She set up Gamma Talent in 2018, an consultancy that focusses on building talent in the charity sector. She is currently Charity Director for Hockey futures, the charity in England using hockey to support young people on and off the pitch. Based in Birmingham, Fidelis is a big champion of the West Midlands non-profit sector.
Fidelis is a Trustee at Beyond the Horizon Charity; a Volunteer Inclusion Officer at Harborne Hockey Club; a Volunteer with Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens and a Volunteer Committee Member for WMCA Giving Month.