The number of people doing voluntary work slumped by more than 30
per cent between 1995 and 2000. Action is needed to encourage more
people to get involved.
For a start, employer-supported volunteering schemes which give
staff paid time off to do voluntary work should become the norm and
not the exception. And schools, too, play an important role in
turning the theory of citizenship into practice. Yet despite this I
do not believe that volunteering should be compulsory.
At the heart of volunteering is the concept of choice and of
something that is undertaken willingly. In our organisation older
people choose which services they want to access, how frequently
and for how long. So if our 95,000 volunteers were to be “forced”
or “obliged” to help on a particular project, it would be in
complete contradiction of a basic principle.
Volunteers give their time and energy to a group because they
believe in what that group does and the difference that their
volunteering can make. Their job satisfaction goes beyond the
emotional. Talents must be valued, their work should be
professionally managed, and they should receive appropriate
training to carry out their role, and to enhance their personal
development and paid employment prospects. It’s all part of keeping
a volunteer workforce engaged and enthused.
But there is no place for complacency. More homes now have two
people working long hours. The image of a traditional volunteer no
longer applies. Volunteering should be an integral part of
day-to-day life in local communities and not an add-on to be
Equally, organisations working with volunteers need to be flexible
in their thinking and able to run with a range of volunteer talents
that might be offered to them. What a waste it would be to turn
down an offer of help just because it doesn’t fit into a
pre-designed box. Opportunities to volunteer should be tailored so
that people who perhaps want to volunteer during the evenings, at
weekends or maybe just for a short period of time, are not
The world is a diverse one and if voluntary groups are to build a
more cohesive society then their volunteers must reflect the
communities they serve.
The volunteering message must be broadcast loud and clear so that
more people from all walks of life will be spurred on to do their
bit in their communities. We need active citizens but active
citizens who are there by choice.
Mark Lever is chief executive of WRVS (previously known as
the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service).