Dave Thomas, Volunteering Development Officer at NCVS, writes...
I have long been an advocate of the principle that volunteers can do anything. As long as people with the right skills are involved in the right roles, this has always been true. The voluntary sector is made up of hundreds and thousands of small organisations with no paid staff where volunteers have to do everything.
But should they always be allowed to do anything? In this blog entry, I want to consider organisations where volunteers are delivering services alongside paid staff.
Over the last 10 months or so, volunteering has seen the biggest upheaval in very many years. Just a year ago, we would have been hard-pressed to predict the scale of our move to online befriending, socially distanced meetings and the complete close down of so much face-to-face volunteering.
There are, of course, some positives. In particular, the widespread adoption of technology by volunteers and service users has been brilliant and the willingness of people to come forward to volunteer during the pandemic has been heartwarming.
Leaders of Volunteers have been wrestling with these changes as well as developing new volunteering roles to meet the ever-changing needs of their service users and organisations.
We cope with these day to day pressures because that is what we do. However, do we have the time and space to step back and ask some fundamental questions about the way that our volunteer programmes are adapting? In particular, fundamental questions about the roles that we are adapting and creating?
As our organisations’ expert in the field of volunteering, you and I are the team members with a responsibility to ask these questions and help to find the answers.
The key question I want us to ask ourselves is this - whether that new or changed role is really a volunteer role or whether it should be a paid job?
How do we decide?
As funding gets tight, and we know that it will only get tighter, Leaders of Volunteers are going to be under a great deal of pressure to get volunteers to fill the gaps and to undertake roles that were formerly carried out by paid staff.
If we are able to put together a clear set of criteria to guide these decisions and get agreement from managers, colleagues and other stakeholders, we will be better able to support our organisation with making the right decision on whether a role is suitable for a volunteer to undertake or whether it should be a paid position.
Remember – you and I are our organisations’ in-house volunteering experts. We have a responsibility to challenge and possibly to resist pressure to develop inappropriate roles.
The decision criteria
The criteria we use to determine the answer to this key question will be based on our own reality and that of our organisation's. However, I have provided some questions below that you and your colleagues can use, as a guide, to help you in your decision making:
- Does this volunteer role directly replace a paid worker?
- What is the added value that this volunteer role brings to the organisation?
- Are the tasks in this volunteer role fundamental to the organisation’s aims and objectives?
- Is the level or responsibility within this role appropriate for a volunteer to carry out?
- What will be the impact on our service users be if a volunteer in this role leaves tomorrow?
Over to you
Please let me know how you address these difficult decisions in your organisation and I’ll update this blog with your ideas. Email me at email@example.com