20 January, 2017
Volunteers play a valuable role in our society but the extent of that role is constantly being debated. Never more so than when a crisis hits, such as that currently faced by the NHS and social care services.
Add to this the needs of a growing diaspora from countries experiencing war, economic or environmental hardship and the role of volunteers arguably becomes even more important.
In his blog post this week, Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, called for a national debate on volunteering. He argues that if we are to move towards the Prime Minister’s envisioned ‘shared society’ then communities need help to support each other rather than waiting for public services to do so.
Voluntary organisations have a considerable communications job to do here. There are four key points to get across:
– Why people need support and the gap that voluntary organisations fill
– The professionalism a volunteer represents (as Stuart Etherington says, voluntary doesn’t mean amateur)
– The value to a potential volunteer in giving up their time and becoming involved
– The value to those in need – the end result of a volunteer’s input
These need to be communicated together. They don’t work in isolation, so they need to be well thought through and joined up to give a comprehensive picture.
Statistics give useful background to strengthen an argument but it’s the personal stories of those involved that are the most powerful.
It has been important to communicate the need – that falling behind in reading limits youngsters’ ability to express themselves, affects their confidence and their academic progress. It’s not just about taking twice as long to finish Harry Potter. In growing class sizes and a changing curriculum, teachers and classroom assistants don’t have the time to read one-to-one with children on a regular basis.
Part of the story, then, is about children and their new-found passion for books. Another part is the impact of the volunteers – and the benefits of volunteering.
One target audience has been people over 60, some of whom experience loneliness, boredom or just want to use their experience effectively post-employment. Volunteer case studies demonstrate the value they get out of time with the children – and with each other, as volunteering opens up new social networks.
It’s also been important to show that Beanstalk volunteers are welcomed by schools, that teachers don’t feel their positions are undermined. Reading helpers complement existing services rather than replace them, and help schools to achieve their educational outcomes.
The challenge to all voluntary organisations is to demonstrate alongside this that volunteers are well-managed. The sector is still feeling the effects of negative headlines about fundraising so it’s important to consider communications as a whole, and what all marketing, PR and fundraising activity says about the organisation.
And if you haven’t volunteered yourself yet, maybe you should.