How do we ensure the future of our voluntary services?

07 Aug 2015

‘I have nothing to give but love’ said a senior after her adult children visited her – how can giving love, informed by a lifetime of caring be nothing? – Edgar Cahn, An Asset perspective on community development

Sonia says :

How do we ensure the future of our voluntary services?

With all of us reeling from the news about Kids Company and its closure, we who provide services to the most vulnerable need to look hard at how we ensure the future of our services.

Increasingly the voluntary sector has moved into the realm of providing essential services to the community - whether they be services for children, older people, those with housing or health needs - our reliance on local authority and trust funding puts us in a vulnerable position.

The charity sector is a complex one. We cannot rely on one funding stream, nor can we rely on using our funding purely to employ professionals to support our work.

Whilst there is no real one size fits all answer to future proofing services, and not wanting to simplify a complex question, we do have one area in which we can all be more creative. This is where we can use the skills and expertise of volunteers alongside the paid professionals to enhance the depth of services, gain greater commitment from the communities we serve to support us when we need them, and draw on a pool of people that would otherwise be out of our reach.

Volunteering has its cost but the return on investment is huge, and demonstrable.

Some years ago I was fortunate to meet Edgar Cahn the founder of Timebanking, and then even more fortunate to invite him to meet with our senior management team. He tells the story of how he first set up pro bono legal services with no strings attached and when funding was withdrawn nobody fought his corner. When they relaunched but made a proviso that those who received a service paid forward the time into their community through volunteering in youth clubs, befriending older people, etc. that community could demonstrate to funders the extra value their money provided into the community and the tangible benefits. (Edgar Can - No More Throwaway People)

At Jewish Care we are so fortunate that so many people give their time - from those who oversee the governance and development of services to those who work back office or front of house supporting people who come to us for support, services or just social interaction.

How often do we reflect on the added value of what they say about us out in the wider world, how they take forward into their communities best practice in dementia care or take our innovations like tea parties for older people into their own local groups?

This concept of Asset Based Community Development helps us use the assets of our volunteers to replicate what we do and publicise how we do it with no or little cost. It not only extends our projects and way of thinking but also acts as a free marketing tool through a valuable asset source.

As I say this is not an answer to a dire situation for a charity, nor a criticism of how other charities work, but acts for me as a reminder of how fortunate we are in our community to have committed people at our disposal and how we should value not just the time they give to us but recognise the dividends we can reap if we use them properly and show them how much we value them.

Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 3,000 people.

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