Partnership working in practice: celebrating Volunteers' Week

It’s Volunteers Week – I’m sure that hasn’t escaped your notice – but what I hadn’t realised is that Volunteers Week is now 30 years old.
With a milestone birthday for Volunteers Week and last year’s 15th anniversary of the Compact, it’s a good time to reflect on volunteering and the Compact. It’s also a good time for a sneaky peak at the future of volunteering, as well as taking the opportunity to celebrate the enormous contribution that volunteers make.
In a recent blog by Justin Davis Smith of NCVO, there were a number of questions raised about current issues and what may lie ahead for volunteering, including:

  • How can we build and strengthen the volunteering infrastructure which underpins much of the social action which takes place in our communities?
  • How can we develop meaningful partnerships between the volunteering movement and the statutory and business sectors, based on the principle of co-production?

I would say that the Compact, at least in part, answers those questions.
There are three very clear areas where the Compact highlights what it is important to recognise regarding the value of volunteering. These areas are particularly important to consider when you’re embarking on partnership working across different sectors.
1.    Volunteering is not ‘free’

Our Engagement Development Officers regularly identify emerging themes in partnership working; we try to address them and provide advice and support where we can.
One theme we’ve noticed is that there is more pressure than ever before on volunteers, particularly in terms of expectations and what they are asked to deliver.
Charities of all shapes and sizes work with volunteers and although those volunteers are often critical to the running and success of a charity, there are costs associated with recruitment, induction, training, retention and so on.
The Compact makes it clear that those costs must be covered in funding coming into the voluntary sector from the statutory sector and that volunteering is not free. In fact, principle 3.8 in the Compact states: “Recognise that when civil society organisations (CSOs) apply for a grant they can include appropriate and relevant overheads, including the costs associated with training and volunteer involvement.”
2.    Volunteers have views and these views have value
In looking at the less visible side of volunteering - and the sometimes behind-the-scenes work that takes place to develop and shape policy - the Compact focuses on the need for public bodies to give early notice of consultations. This is so that voluntary organisations are allowed enough time to involve their service users, beneficiaries, members, trustees and volunteers in preparing responses.
Seeking the views of your volunteers is critical in building an evidence base for your responses to these consultations, and for the development of policies that support and meet the needs of those likely to be affected.
It is, of course, also true to say that there’s often a big overlap between volunteers who are service users, volunteers who are beneficiaries… Over and above the volunteer role an individual takes on, they are a potentially invaluable source of feedback and insight – a voice which needs to be heard.
3.    Barriers to volunteering need to be removed
The current version of the Compact, right up front and centre, in principle 1 undertakes government to ‘ensure that it is free for volunteers to access Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks.’
The good news is that in 2012 there were positive developments on this with the government introducing a series of measures to reduce red tape for volunteers.
The Protection of Freedoms Act improved the portability of CRB certificates (now known as DBS - Disclosure and Barring Service - checks) so that people can volunteer using the same certificate as they do for employment.
DBS guidelines also state that ‘checks for eligible volunteers are free of charge. This includes anyone who spends time helping people and is not being paid (apart from for travel and other approved out of pocket expenses)’.  
The Compact is often thought of as something that underpins funding relationships, but its principles are much wider than this – it’s there to underpin the range of activities undertaken by the voluntary sector.
I wrote a blog earlier this year doing a bit of myth-busting about misconceptions of the Compact, and I urged people to re-read the Compact itself, to remind yourselves of how useful and wide-ranging the principles are. I think it’s worth making the same ask here.
I would also invite you to join in the Big Volunteering Debate - read Justin’s blog, and post your thoughts in response on the NCVO website.
You can also share updates on your Volunteers Week activities via social media using the hashtag #volunteersweek.
And last but definitely not least - thank you to everyone who volunteers – as the saying goes ‘volunteers are not paid, not because they are worthless but because they are priceless.’

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