What does the future hold for volunteering?

Oonagh Aitken, Issue 116/10, p15,

The future of volunteering in the UK holds challenges but also exciting opportunities.  

In the few years I have been the chief executive of Volunteering Matters, volunteering has moved up the political agenda. David Cameron’s big society idea, and his public commitment to volunteering, helped to initiate this change. The London Olympics also played an important role in raising the profile of volunteering and civic duty.

Volunteering has become a “must have” for young people going into higher education. It’s also become a key part of many major companies’ corporate social responsibility programmes, and an attractive option for retirees looking to give something back.

What does this mean for organisations such as ours that develop volunteering opportunities for people of all ages and abilities across the UK? And what does it mean for museums, which deploy volunteers to carry out valuable work in our local communities and public spaces?

The future of volunteering in the UK holds challenges but also exciting opportunities. Youth engagement is increasing, with more than 40% of young people taking part in meaningful social action in 2015. But there is a “privilege gap”, with fewer young people from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing volunteering opportunities. This is a waste, as volunteering has a host of benefits for the beneficiaries, the volunteers themselves and society as a whole.

Research backs this up: volunteer programmes can deliver excellent results for some of societies’ biggest problems, such as social isolation among older people, youth unemployment and vulnerable families struggling with minimum support. The volunteers themselves gain so much, from improving their skills and confidence, to making new friends and gaining a greater understanding of other social and ethnic groups.

Volunteers should have a clear role description, and engage in regular supervision sessions with their manager. Supervision enables the volunteers to reflect on and address any issues that may arise during their work. I also encourage volunteer managers to take care to measure the impact of their work, as this will prove to be vital when applying for funding, seeking positive media coverage or applying for excellence awards.

I’m hopeful that the future of volunteering will see more of this kind of discourse: that the conversation goes beyond “how can we set up more volunteer programmes?” to “how can we deliver excellent and innovative volunteer programmes that deliver high social impact for disadvantaged members of society?”

There are exciting and challenging times ahead in volunteering policy and practice. And the sector will need to adapt to the changing needs of a fast-paced society. But some things won’t change. The stories we hear from our volunteers and beneficiaries, whose lives have been changed, will remain constant. In terms of the positive social connections that are formed through our volunteer projects, we just need to keep doing the same.

Oonagh Aitken is the chief executive of Volunteering Matters
Volunteering Matters develops and delivers volunteer-led solutions across the UK in response to some of the most difficult challenges facing individuals and their communities. Oonagh Aitken is giving a keynote speech at this year’s Museums Association Conference & Exhibition in Glasgow (7-9 November).


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21.11.2017, 14:41
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