Criticism Continues for UK Government Talk Re Volunteers

Like the USA federal and state governments, the government of the United Kingdom, lead by Prime Minister David Cameron, is hoping that its citizens will step up and volunteer their time — work for free — to provide local services that local and federal governments no longer want to fund. Cameron calls this the big society drive. He wants volunteers — unpaid staff — to take over the staffing of post offices, libraries, transport services. He never says that it’s being done to save money: he says that staffing these organizations with volunteers will empower individuals and give them a greater voice in their communities.

Anyone who knows me or this blog knows that I am passionate about involving volunteers, so much so that I do not trust a nonprofit or community-focused initiative that does not involve volunteers – and does not involve them in more than rudimentary tasks. I believe involving volunteers does benefit communities far beyond money, and have said so many times (see the list of links at the end of this blog).

But let’s be clear: Cameron is being disingenuous about why he wants volunteers engaged in these programs. It’s all about defunding programs, not about increasing community involvement. 

If he were serious, then he would be talking about increasing the money for the resources needed (training, people, etc.) to involve larger numbers of volunteers. He would be talking about increasing funds to Volunteering England, the primary institution in England for tracking, supporting and celebrating volunteering in the country, not cutting them.

The criticisms have been going on for a while now in the British press (‘Big society’ museum plans in Liverpool condemned, 19 July 2010). But this month, the criticisms seem everywhere:

I hope that US politicians who are making similar noises about saving money with volunteers are paying attention; this is what is in store for you if you get serious “big” ideas about volunteers. The criticism will be 10 times louder in the USA!

By all means, let’s undertake activities to involve more volunteers in nonprofits and the government in the USA – AND LET’S PAY FOR THAT. Volunteers don’t just magically show up and get the work done, without a tremendous amount of money and paid staff to support them. Even Wikimedia online volunteers aren’t free!

Also see these blogs on related subjects:

2 thoughts on “Criticism Continues for UK Government Talk Re Volunteers

  1. DJ Cronin

    Great blog Jayne and a great ???calling it as it is???. The criticism is justified especially looking at the funding cuts such as those administered on Volunteering England. What to do though? Imagine a ???Refusal to serve day??? where hundreds of thousands of volunteers march the streets in protest. Sure organisations engaging volunteers would be hurt for the day but the long term gain might be worth the pain. But of course we don???t think in these terms because volunteering is too ???nice???. It also goes to the weakness of our national associations of volunteer management. Where are the media stories on their reaction? Because what happens in the UK can also happen in the US, Australia, France, Israel, Singapore, whatever country that has volunteerism.Cutting funding to ???Volunteerism??? and the resources that support it may seem to Government to be the easy option. After all they do not expect a huge reaction. Sure???there is a bit of bad media. But that will blow over.Criticism needs to be global and you are so right to take up the cause. Who will follow?

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  2. Anonymous

    Organizations need to start being MUCH more vocal about the COST to involve volunteers. How much does it cost an organization to involve a volunteer in an ongoing role? In a short-term role? In a group volunteering role? To recruit these volunteers? The money, space, equipment and time it takes to involve a volunteer should be ready to share — and shared whenever the government starts saying, "Hey, let’s get volunteers to do this and save some money!"

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