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