‘Volunteers are more than foot soldiers, they’re catalysts for change,’ CEO says

03 Feb 2021 News

Volunteering Matters plans to take a more “bottom up” approach and make the case for volunteers as “catalysts for change”, its chief executive said last week.  

The strategy launch was delayed by nearly a year due to the pandemic, but Paul Reddish, chief executive, said it was now “even more relevant as a result of the pandemic”. 

Speaking to an online audience, he said: “It’s not just about supporting volunteers it’s about what that leads to and what happens.” 

He added: “A lot of our work is about demonstrating volunteers not as foot soldiers, not as people who go out and do things that lead to outcomes, but as change makers and catalysts for change.”  

Reddish described volunteers as: “People who help improve communities from the bottom up, help address inequalities, help address health issues, reduce isolation and loneliness, improve prospects and skills, and give voice and agency to people in spaces that wouldn’t usually get voice and agency.”

‘Bottom-up’ approach 

Reddish said Volunteering Matters wanted to take a more collaborative approach. 

“Communities themselves have got the power knowledge and energy to improve from within and that we’re most effective when we’re working with them not on behalf of them,” he said. 

“Part of that is understanding, listening, learning and then being able to respond to what they believe their needs are in each community setting – whether that be a local community or a community setting.” 

To that end, he is aiming to be “a lot less top down in our approach”. 

He said this is not a completely new approach, but a refocusing. 

“Like a lot of charities over the years we’ve got into the trap over the years of commissioning and top-down approaches, where you’re mandated to do particular outcomes,” he said. 

“Essentially this strategy is about getting back to our roots, which is about bottom-up community activism through volunteering.” 

Building relationships 

Although the new strategy is partly about a return to previous ways of working, Reddish said it would be with a “modern 2021 application”. 

This means a focus on understanding the impact volunteering has and embracing digital tools. 

He also highlighted the importance of building relationships through its “programmatic” work that lead on to other things. 

He gave examples of how volunteers who had been involved in things pre-Covid had adapted what they were doing, or set up new things that were needed, during the pandemic. 

“All of this was done by the volunteers with our support,” he said. “We didn’t commission for anything, there were no programmes and it’s built on the programmatic work that we’ve done and connecting different communities.” 

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