Reach had an excellent year in 2102 helping to place 480 skilled volunteers with a wide range of charities across the Third Sector.
Charities continually need to fill vacancies in key roles, particularly as Trustees, and Reach as the skilled volunteering charity has been providing this invaluable service for more than 30 years with our placements advisors widely respected for their expertise and enthusiasm in finding the right match between skilled volunteer and charity.
Reach starts 2013 on a positive note with secured finding, including a £120,000 grant from the City of London’s City Bridge Trust and with plans well advanced to introduce iReach – a new web-based platform which will dramatically increase the volume, range and quality of skilled volunteering across the UK by building an online community where charities and volunteers will meet, interact, and find their ideal match.
Iain Herbertson expresses a personal view on ‘The Big Society’
The voluntary sector is currently involved in a major public consultation exercise, designed to examine what support is required by front-line organisations that will play key roles in delivering the Big Society. The consultation was launched late last year by the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd, who claimed that the Government’s vision of the Big Society offered charities and voluntary groups ‘huge opportunities’.
When it comes to the phrase ‘Big Society’, there seems to be no shortage of definitions flying around. The Government has talked of community empowerment and of fostering cultures of volunteerism and philanthropy. But whatever its vision, it seems to me that Ministers have so far failed to describe the Big Society in powerful and compelling terms which everyone can understand and unite behind. For the Big Society to become a ‘big idea’ that really takes root, it needs champions who can clarify the vision, explain the problems that it solves and compellingly call us all to action.
One of the problems is that many of the ideas being talked about are far from new. Volunteering, philanthropy and action by the local community have been with us for very many years. According to Government statistics, almost half the adult population currently participate in some form of volunteering at least once a month. One could be forgiven for thinking that a culture of volunteerism already exists and that what is actually needed are measures to encourage and foster it. To develop these, the Government could usefully do more to understand the psychology of volunteering.
Above all else, I think the Government needs to clarify exactly what it means by the Big Society; both what it is and how it differs from previous ways of doing things. Ministers should spell out the strategy for introducing the Big Society along with their proposals for how it might be implemented. And they need to demonstrate leadership. They should set an example by applying the same discipline to the creation of the Big Society as they are bringing to bear on the problem of the fiscal deficit.
For example, one issue widely taken onboard by the voluntary sector in recent years is the need for more rigorous evaluation of its activities. This approach is just as important whether programmes are of a capital nature (eg new computer systems) or involve service provision (eg the potential contribution of volunteers to improve the performance of the Welfare to Work agenda). At Reach we believe that effective evaluation can only improve the role of volunteering in the Big Society. Hopefully, the Government will show the way, and be rigorous in evaluating any projects it funds as part of creating the Big Society.
I think it would also be helpful if the Government explained more about how the environment for the Big Society might be created. What would be the incentives for philanthropists to support it? How would the interface with Government operate? And what issues of governance and compliance need to be addressed? More clarity from the Government on these and other key issues would really help to put meat on the bone of the Big Society.
It is clear to me, however, that what we don’t need from the Government is more money to support ‘favourite’ causes, to win popularity or to invest in projects that have not been fully evaluated. It was interesting that as soon as it became apparent that there would be a major role for volunteers in the Big Society, demand began to build for a new ‘National Database for Volunteers’ – funded by the Government, of course! In reality, the need for a new database is quite limited. The process of recruiting volunteers is essentially a simple triangular relationship involving matching the work requirements of an organisation (charity) with the skills & aspirations of a volunteer (candidate), and having the process supported by an intermediary (Reach and other volunteering specialists). Increasingly, the internet is the connecting point between the parties, so why a need for Government intervention?
Ultimately, what is required to successfully create the Big Society is a combination of ingenuity and inspiration to drive new thinking and new ways to improve services at a cost that the UK can afford. Of course there will be a need for more volunteers, especially skilled volunteers, if charities are to step up the provision of public services. At Reach we intend to contribute fully to the debate on the Big Society and to think hard about how we can collaborate with others to better supply our services to all our stakeholders.
Iain Herbertson is a Special Advisor on employment to the Mayor’s Fund and a member of Reach’s board. He blogs here in a personal capacity.
We are all inundated with promotional emails selling us courses about how to write our newsletters more creatively, but this is often not the real problem.
For a small organisation, producing a newsletter does require creativity but not just with the content. To make a newsletter happen, we need to be more inventive about how we use our resources as well as our words. How many of us have been meaning to launch our newsletters for months and months but can just never find the time or the skills?
Here at Reach we knew how a newsletter could help us build relationships with our volunteers and organisations but had always struggled to find the expertise amongst our staff team. We are, however, more than familiar with sourcing skilled volunteers and are well aware of how well they can supplement the experience of paid staff.
Firstly we found Steve Annett, a fantastically experienced journalist who had registered with us as he wanted to give charities the benefit of his skills and experience.
Jagyaseni Sen has joined Reach as a marketing volunteer bringing impressive skills from her professional marketing career in India while she searches for work in this country.
We sourced an IT whizz, Ivaylo Radev, from the Future Jobs Fund to put the spreadsheets together.
We used the standard email format which we had already been given from our web agency and there were all the resources we needed to produce our quarterly newsletter at a fraction of the usual cost.
With the exception of the Future jobs fund, an unfortunate casualty of last weeks cuts, all these resources are readily available through Reach for any organisation to use. But perhaps you have been more inventive still with how you have produced your newsletter.
If so, let us know.