Volunteers increasingly asked to ‘pick up mantle’ of government, says NCVO

20 Oct 2022 News

Sarah Vibert, CEO of NCVO

Volunteers are increasingly being asked to “pick up the mantle of the state”, the chief executive officer of NCVO has said. 

Sarah Vibert said at an event yesterday that more volunteers are claiming expenses due to the cost-of-living crisis.

Speaking on the first day of the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) Conference 2022, Vibert said the crisis was making it more difficult for charities to recruit volunteers.

And she said she’d like to see more volunteers being able to help shape places and communities instead of being needed to run poverty response services such as food banks.

Critical role

Vibert said she is often asked whether she wants to see more or fewer charities and more or less voluntary action. 

She answered that she would like to see fewer people being needed to run food banks but more charities such as Girlguiding and Scouts which make life rich for young people and strengthen communities. 

“It’s really well rehearsed that volunteering is good for individuals, it’s good for the people volunteers are working alongside or supporting. But perhaps what’s less well rehearsed is the absolutely critical role that volunteers play in shaping places and the connections that people have to replace,” she said.

“I guess it’s this that I’d like to see more of rather than volunteers being needed, as they’re increasingly being asked to do, to pick up the mantle of the state.”

Cost-of-living crisis will impact people’s availability to volunteer

On the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on volunteering, Vibert said: “The reduced disposable income that people have will probably impact on people’s availability to volunteer. 

“We know that the number one barrier to volunteering is paid work. If people are understandably taking on more hours to make ends meet, there’ll be less time available for volunteering.”

According to her, NCVO members are reporting that it is “a challenging time to recruit volunteers right now”, with volunteers taking on fewer hours.

During the session, AVM asked delegates what the most pressing trend in volunteer management is right now.

Out of the 183 people who answered, nearly four in 10 said “challenges with recruiting volunteers”. This was followed by “cost-of-living concerns” (31%) and “increase in remote and digital volunteering roles” (15%). 

Sector must ensure volunteers are not ‘left out of pocket’

Vibert said that in the last few months, volunteers have started to claim expenses more than they used to in the past. 

She continued: “Previously, that would have been an additional donation to the charity in terms of their train there or whatever other expenses they incur in the process of volunteering. Many volunteers have been able to absorb that cost. 

“As the cost-of-living crisis progresses, we’d like to see an increase in expense claims and also the value of those expense claims. It’s really important for us as a sector to ensure that volunteers aren’t left out of pocket for their activities. We know there are significant inequalities in who gets involved and if this is a cost of volunteering then that inequality will worsen.”

The current Approved Mileage Allowance Payment (AMAP) stands at 45p, a rate that was last reviewed in 2012. 

The Community Transport Association has been leading a campaign – with the support of organisations such as NCVO – to “ensure volunteers are properly compensated for the expenses they incur when use their car,” Vibert said. 

Looking after volunteers’ wellbeing

Vibert mentioned the findings of a recent NCVO report, which found that volunteers are at risk of burnout due to the pressures of Covid-19. 

She said volunteers are being asked to do more in many cases and that organisations need to be conscious of their wellbeing and how they support them.

“The challenge right now is that the right thing to do might be to let people go, let them rest and then support them to come back and do activities again.”

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