There are volunteers ready and waiting across the country, so why aren’t charities asking for their help?

One of the main issues that comes up again and again in the
world of volunteering is the need for better communication between volunteers
and those needing their services. This is typically provided by volunteer
brokerage organisations, such as ourselves here at iT4Communities, but there is a real difficulty in
linking the two groups.

We have a nationwide volunteer network of nearly 8,000 IT
professionals ready to donate their time for free in a wide range of specialist
areas. This sounds too good to be true, but not enough people take up the offer –
which on the surface seems rather inexplicable.

Every year we provide around 250 charities with the expert
assistance they need but can rarely afford. Our volunteers are often
freelancers with some spare capacity, or contractors between contracts. The
matching process is carried out with the help of our project definers who,
while speaking in plain English to the client, can ensure that the correct
technical spec is used to describe the job to potential candidates. In this
way, the ideal applicant can be identified.

On average we have over 300 opportunities available at any
time. They range from quick fix tasks which might take only a couple of hours
to longer term projects which will be worked on over a period of months.

So why aren’t more not-for-profit organisations snapping up
the opportunity? There isn’t one clear answer to this question.

One point is that the label ‘volunteer’ is misleading. Most
charities depend to a greater or lesser extent on a number of volunteers who
offer their time and goodwill on a regular basis. The preparation and
organisation of this voluntary workforce involves a lot of input from
management in terms of training and development – an expensive allocation of
resource, time and effort.

All this means that charities tend not to think in terms of
highly-skilled volunteer workers. Our volunteers are consultants offering their
specialism ‘pro-bono’, which is a different notion altogether. They are
providing an invaluable and skilled service which, if outsourced commercially,
would often be completely out of the financial reach of the
charity in question.

We have also found that locally based, faced and resourced
charities are less likely to consult a national register such as ourselves.
They are used to finding the assistance they require through local networks, and
so iT4Communities is just not on their radar.

This is unfortunate because our volunteers are ready and
waiting right across the country and it is these very organisations that could
often most benefit from the help, while being the least likely to be able to
produce the finances required to acquire it.

– Anne Stafford is programme manager at iT4Communities

  • Ben Butler

    Hi Anne, iT4communities sounds fantastic. Perhaps organisations just haven’t heard of you yet? How is the service promoted? Have you spoken to the Volunteer Centres?

  • Richard Caulfield

    Can’t let you write a Blog without taking a little issue with you Peter!

    In your first paragraph you refer to ”being more than a cash-machine’ – which infers you may have been in the past. I think this is the straw that breaks the camels back for me: I am fed up of people talking down grant programmes, whether government or lottery, as if they were some hand-out that people did no work for: yes the lottery gave grants and the sector worked bloody hard to deliver against them. I have never seen an organisation just accept a grant as a hand-out: and you used to have lots of people on the ground who monitored these organisations who came to your cash machine – they were much better placed to know things were being done than the way grants are currently managed at a distance.

    if you wanted to overcome a perception of being easy money then the lottery ought to stop any grants where they are clear people are not delivering or they believe things are happening inappropriately – otherwise phrases like ‘handouts’ or ‘cash machines’ are a slur on all your grant recipients and I am confident you didn’t mean that!

    As for the issue around Social Investment – i wouldn’t say it was so much an issue of Government interference i would challenge but the openness of the phrase in the guidance: your interpretation is fine by me – but it might not be down to you to interpret forever!

  • Mark Atkinson

    Partnership working in all its many guises is a worthwhile endeavour provided the parties to the arrangement have a clear understanding of what exactly they are trying to achieve and what their role is in trying to achieve it. I think we have all seen just as many bad examples of partnership working as good. I personally favour the development of MOU’s as a means of taking informal group arrangements to their next level. Whilst not legally binding, the act of drawing up and signing a document which spells out the intent of the parties conveys a certain amount of gravitas and facilitates further joint endeavour.

    Notwithstanding any word used, be it partnership, informal voluntary arrangement, consortium or collaboration, all such relationships still require a body to take the lead. It is good to see that Victim Support has recognised and is doing this with the alliance it has created.

    Mark Atkinson, VCSchange