Policies on volunteering

With the coalition government of 2010 came the Big Society agenda. In the proposed “Big Society”, citizens are encouraged to actively participate in running public institutions, leading to a more integrated and involved society. A popular example is of a school being run by parents and teachers. Political support for volunteering may also be tied to reduced state provision, with associated spending cuts. Questions exist around whether the Big Society agenda is concerned primarily with citizenship or efficiency. Even before the Big Society agenda, the preceding Labour government introduced policies and proposals for supporting employee volunteering, institutions to promote citizenship, the link between citizenship and volunteering, and the creation of sustainable social enterprises.

What are the implications?

  • Changes to numbers of volunteers across the public and private sector as well as the VCS.
  • As volunteering increases, new policies are required to minimise the associated risks (see attitudes towards risk) and reduce red tape.
  • Greater reliance on volunteering in order for the nation's overall quality of life to be sustained and improved.
  • Potential shifts in attitudes towards community responsibility.
  • Changes to the definition of volunteering.
  • New motivations for volunteering (see trends in volunteering).
  • Increase in employee volunteering.
  • A risk of creating exclusive volunteering opportunities which only the middle classes can access on account of the spare time, confidence and education they have.

Moving forward

With increased interest around volunteering, volunteer numbers are likely to grow across the public and voluntary sectors.

  • How can your organisation respond to competition for volunteers?
  • Should you invest in volunteer recruitment and management?

Policies around volunteering may change the reasons why people choose to volunteer.

  • How much do you know about why volunteers choose to volunteer with you?
  • Are these reasons changing?

There will be a greater need for volunteers to participate in society and contribute their time to services previously taken for granted and paid for in taxes, such as libraries.

  • What role can your organisation play in inspiring, recruiting and training people to become more involved in society?
  • Can your organisation provide councils, schools and businesses with training and consulting on how to best motivate, recruit and manage volunteers?
  • Can your organisation be an outsourced volunteering solution to the care sector where volunteers, for example, may be required to visit the elderly in their homes as a way of coping with possible staff reductions among paid carers?

Want to know more?

Civic streets: the big society in action

Published by: Demos - a conservative think tank focused on power and politics.

Date: 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? A report describing two case studies to illustrate the challenges of community building.

How useful is this? The report uses two estates to illustrate the potential for community renewal through “citizen action and voluntary endeavour”. It also outlines ways in which this process can be helped through government support. Key areas of policy considered include: long-term funding to inspire confidence; democratic outreach; targeting of 'easy wins' (“broken window strategy”); and transition planning. Although published prior to the 2010 election, the report explores the ideas behind the coalition government's “Big Society” and links these to policies of the preceding Labour government

Civil renewal and active citizenship: a guide to debate

Published by: NCVO

Date: 2005

Format: Web

What is it? A report giving an overview of active citizenship from the perspective of the VCS as well as an outline of government policies in this area.

How useful is this? Chapter two maps out the Government agenda around civil renewal and active citizenship looking at the policies and initiatives of the Home Office as well as how the agenda relates to other government departments. Although several years old, this provides the policy background to the developments under the coalition government as well as giving more general insights into active citizenship.

National Citizenship Service for 16-year-olds launched today

Published by: The Telegraph – a right-of-centre daily broadsheet

Date: July 2010

Format: Web

What is it? An article announcing the launch of the National Citizen Service.

How useful is this?  The National Citizen Service would encourage 16-year-olds to engage in a range of voluntary activities over a two-month period, helping them engage with their communities and giving valuable experience. This article gives a positive view of the new scheme, an attitude broadly in keeping with that of voluntary sector infrastructure organisations, including NCVO and Volunteering England. It is worth noting that alternative opinions are present in the press (e.g. in the Guardian) and for balance, it is worth examining both points of view.

Last updated at 17:32 Fri 04/Feb/11.

Recent comments


Written as Policy Officer at NCVO

This focus on trying to increase the numbers of people actively engaged in both civil and civic life is gaining pace following the publication of the recent DCLG white paper communities in control
The first chapter is entitled ‘active citizenship and the value of volunteering’. It sets out what the Government plans to do to make it easier for people to be involved in voluntary and community activity. As suggested in this driver, it does indeed include the announcement of funding streams, and builds on other funds as well as the extension of local pilots of ‘Take Part’ pathfinders

It interesting to note that the Government also plans to consult on extending the right to time off for people serving in roles which are considered to be decision making functions in statutory bodies – e.g. as members of probation boards, or as co-opted members of overview and scrutiny panel. (Currently only certain roles are eligible for time off) There are also plans to consult on the right to time off for certain roles in the housing sector (e.g. members of boards of tenant management organisations)

Further to consulting on extending the right to time off, the Government also wants to explore how they can encourage more active involvement in independent voluntary and community activity, through non-regulatory ways: this is interesting because there is much good practice and guidance available on volunteering policies in the workplace, and one could argue that the focus perhaps ought to be on what DCLG can do to create an environment in which voluntary and community organisations can thrive (this has obvious links to national indictor 7) as well as what the department can do to encourage better time off or condition which encourage volunteers and activism through its policy/strategic responsibilities – for example by considering what local government, and indeed what all LSP partners can do to encourage more community activism.

Read NCVOs response to the consultation

The National Citizens Service has been described as the Coalition Government's flagship Big Society programme.

National Citizen Service is a flagship initiative supporting the Government’s vision for building the Big Society. NCS will act as a gateway to the Big Society for many young people, by supporting them to develop the skills and attitudes they need to get more engaged with their communities and become active and responsible citizens.

The pilot is due to start next summer (2011) and this will be for 10,000 sixteen year olds. Ambitious but not too Big and possibly of little strategic concern to other than a few delivery organisations.

However, the full programme is to run in the summer of 2013 and is of an entirely different scale: 600,000 sixteen year olds.

So our conversations have been:

  • How will this scale of delivery be achieved?

  • Will this need a significant network of local delivery and support agencies, working across different sub-sectors (involving volunteer development agencies, local young people support and delivery services)? Surely this needs the full gamut of local and national infrastructure support side by side?

  • How will young people be engaged and left with positive connotations of voluntary action? and have a safe and fun experience?

  • How will "mixing participants of different backgrounds" be successfully and positively achieved?

  • How will this scale of delivery be achieved? we asked that a few times.

The latest details on NCS are here: National Citizens Service

Join the discussion!

How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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