With a long commute yesterday I listened to much coverage on Radio 4 of the news that the Royal British Legion is to close or merge its Women’s section. I will admit to not knowing that there was indeed a separate Women’s section, although the Royal British Legion itself is a well-known and much respected national institution.
Listening to the coverage, what came through was these women’s commitment and dedication as volunteers, often over many years and following a family tradition of volunteering. The distress and anguish of these volunteers is summarized well in this letter to the Guardian from Lesley Willcocks in which she says: “It is just a shame that the change was not implemented in a more coherent and sensitive way, and more respect not given to our wonderful ladies.” This has just been shared by Twitter and so the debate seems likely to spread over the coming days though there is no comment on the respective organisational twitter accounts (@PoppyLegion and @Womens_Section).
The Daily Mail reports that 10,000 volunteer members have left the organisation since the plans were announced in December. The Third Sector reports that many Branches have dissolved their organisations in protest If the Radio 4 coverage is anything to go by many of these have redirected their volunteering talents in other organisations, though many more may simply cease to be active volunteers.
The issues here will be familiar to anyone who studies organization change as it is not necessarily the change itself that has prompted the volunteer’s anger but the lack of involvement and communication. Key also here is the loss of identity, which seems particularly to centre on the Women’s standard which would no longer be in use after the merger. However many of the news articles also raise the issue that the volunteers no longer know what will happen to the money they have raised. This is also the case then for those who have donated, in good faith to a specific area of work. There is of course much coverage of the gender divide too.
It seems that many of these volunteers have chosen exit as the means to make themselves heard. The implications of this for such a significant voluntary organisation are likely to become clearer over the coming months. The planned merger may indeed not be necessary as there may simply be nothing left of the Women’s section to merge with.