As the year draws to a close many bloggers and tweeters are taking this opportunity to reflect on the specific issues facing the third sector in 2015. One issue that is causing comment is the working conditions of those employed by charities gu.com/p/443p9/stw, maybe one of the least well paid and most insecure areas of employment in the UK. However another major issue is encouraging more people to volunteer. As has been argued, in an increasingly fragile economy, but also an economy more sensitive to local community needs and skills, volunteers are an extraordinarily valuable resource. Yet a survey led by NCVO suggests the number of active volunteers in the UK dropped slightly in 2014. The NCVO argue that this drop actually disguises a very stable number of regular volunteers (defined as volunteering once a month) of 39-44%. Stability is good but if we need more people to volunteer, growth would be better. The third sector invests a lot of money and research into encouraging people to volunteer by looking at how we might find more time to volunteer. How can we also improve the management and experience of volunteers once they are already engaged in volunteering? Lisa Nandy, the shadow Minister for civil society, argues that ‘we expect the sector to live by its values and be good employers’, and we might also ask ourselves how do third sector organizations support their volunteers once they are in situ? Or is the trend towards more ‘disposable’ volunteers (e.g. through micro-volunteering) whose commitment does not need to be ensured? Could making it easier for volunteers to take part also make it easier for them to drop out?
The Guardian section on the Voluntary Sector recently advocated not just using social media to obtain funds or attract new volunteers but also to acknowledge those fundraisers the charity or social enterprise already have. Drawing on the example of Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, social media is utilised not just to attract new members but also to retain the good will of existing volunteers in a “highly personal” and “publicly visible” fashion such as thanking volunteers for their efforts and even wishing specific supporters a happy birthday. Of course the added advantage of attracting new fundraisers this way is also acknowledged: transforming “thanking one person or group into an opportunity to inspire participation in future events”. From this example The Guardian distils three lessons for acknowledging supporters by: personalising the organization’s relationship with the individual; engaging other members of the community in the acknowledgment; and using this as an opportunity to get onlookers involved (with only the minimum of resources). Our interest in the volunteer’s experience of social media prompts us to applaud this effort to support existing members but also raises the issue of what implications this exposure might have for the volunteers themselves – is volunteering always a public exhibition? Where is the public/private boundary here? Is this the (implicit) psychological contract you enter into as a volunteer? Definitely a prompt to further exploration of the potentially complex relationship between volunteers and their voluntary organizations.