What TimeBank thinks

Volunteering: This is what TimeBank believes:

1.    The definition of volunteering

Volunteering is an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or communities (of faith or place) or individuals or groups. It is generally accepted that volunteering activity takes place in the not-for-profit sector and statutory sector.

It is freely undertaken and not for financial gain. The principle of non-payment of volunteers is central to wider sector and society’s understanding of volunteering.

Volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual. Freedom to volunteer implies freedom not to become involved.

2.    Rewarded and incentivised volunteering

Volunteering is unpaid. Attempts to incentivise volunteering that go beyond the reimbursement of reasonable out-of-pocket expenses: the offer of discounts; tickets to events; honoraria, ex-gratia payments or the  payment of other lump sums at the end of a period of full-time volunteering; council tax discounts; other rewards contradict the unpaid element of the definition of volunteering and are not, therefore, volunteering.

3.    Internships

We will not support or provide unpaid internships and do not believe they can be considered volunteering. However, there are some circumstances where we would both provide and/or recognise paid internships. For example, where there is a time-limited, discrete piece of work to be undertaken. This could be a research opportunity, a consultation exercise, or a delivering a specific campaign. The principal beneficiary should be the intern and the opportunity should offer tangible benefits, for example as a pathway to full-time employment or further education.

4.    Employee volunteering/employer supported volunteering

Employee Volunteering is where an employer actively encourages staff to volunteer, offering their time, skills and expertise. This is often part of a wider Corporate Social Responsibility programme. It usually is delivered one of two ways: some employers offer staff paid time off to contribute (for example the Co-op offers staff two days paid leave a year), while others will deliver or purchase in-house volunteering opportunities. Employee volunteering is not universally accepted, with some suggesting that where it is a requirement of the employer to participate, it should not be considered as time “freely given”, and if the volunteering happens during their usual working hours, staff are paid for that time. However TimeBank actively encourages employers supporting their staff into volunteering, both as an entry point to volunteering and as a way of giving back to the community in which the business is based.

5.    Volunteering as an early intervention

The purpose of an early action approach is to address problems at the earliest opportunity, before they escalate, helping to break the cycle of poor outcomes. Early action offers the opportunity to make lasting improvements in people’s lives, and to address persistent social problems by focusing on the causes of the problem rather than its symptoms.

As an approach it draws on the knowledge, skills and experiences of the public and private sector, and the voluntary and community sector (including volunteers) to deliver a collaborative approach to early intervention.

Volunteers are ideally placed to support early action:

  • Drawn from diverse communities, volunteers are very likely to reflect the demographics of the communities where the social problems exist.
  • TimeBank uses a peer model of volunteering, recruiting volunteers with a lived experience of those we support through mentoring. For example, we recruit, train and support volunteers who have current or previous caring experience and who would like to act as mentors to other carers. Mentors are able to share their own experience and techniques that have helped them. This first-hand experience helps them work through the causes of a carer’s difficulties rather than the presenting problem.
  • We also believe that early intervention by volunteers can have a significant impact at vulnerable points in people’s lives. Our mentoring project The Switch for example recruits volunteer mentors to guide young people through the transition from children’s to adult mental health services, which can leave them feeling uncertain and overwhelmed. We also support young women who are leaving care, when mentoring can make a huge difference to their emotional wellbeing and offer practical help with independent living. We’ll evaluate how effective mentoring is as a preventative intervention for depression and anxiety, teenage pregnancy and unemployment among these young women.
  • Volunteers are uniquely placed to work collaboratively across sectors, complementing professional interventions. They support beneficiaries by working towards set goals identified by the beneficiary rather than imposing a set of outcomes. Mentors act as a critical friend, listening, reflecting back and encouraging the beneficiary to talk through a particular course of action and consider the consequences.

6.    Job substitution 

The involvement of volunteers should complement and supplement the work of paid staff, and should not be used to displace paid staff or undercut their pay and conditions of service, nor replace staff who have been cut due to financial constraints.

7.    Volunteers delivering public services

Volunteers add value to the delivery of public services. The added value of volunteers should be highlighted as part of commissioning or grant making processes but their involvement should not be used to reduce contract costs.

In the interests of harmonious relations between volunteers and paid staff, volunteers should not be used to undertake the work of paid staff during industrial disputes.

The strain on public finances has created new challenges and ambiguities about how we involve volunteers. For example, the role that volunteers play in keeping libraries open. At TimeBank we believe that the involvement of volunteers should complement and supplement the work of paid staff, and should not be used to displace paid staff or undercut their pay and conditions of service, nor replace staff who have been cut due to financial constraints.

But in the case of often much cherished libraries and museums there is clearly no “one size fits all” solution. Each decision to involve volunteers will need to be made locally – reflecting carefully on whether by involving volunteers paid staff have been displaced or replaced, and also keeping in mind that a local authority has a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service.

8.    Compulsory volunteering; JSA and the Mandatory Work Activity Programme, Help to Work Scheme and work experience on a voluntary basis and community benefit work placement

If an activity is subject to compulsion - whether as a requirement of a course of education or training, receipt of benefits or a form of national service - it undermines the principle of freedom of choice and is not, therefore, volunteering. TimeBank would not recognise as volunteering any activity that is accompanied by the threat of withdrawal of benefits if someone does not complete activity at an organisation.

We would also not accept as volunteering any activity that was as an obligation stipulated by law, contract or academic requirement.

9.    National Citizens Service/Community Organisers

While there is nothing wrong with the aspirations of both programmes, there was no need to reinvent the wheel or duplicate existing services. There are a significant number of opportunities, both formal and accredited and informal for young people to be actively involved in their communities. The money would have been better spent raising awareness and improving access to these opportunities.

While the Community Organisers Programme has laudable aspirations and a significant budget, it is not clear what impact it is having on the ground, or how many Community Organisers have been trained.

10.    The scope of volunteering/examples of volunteering

The range of examples come from the Volunteering Compact Code of Good Practice (2008):

  • Helping provide a service as a volunteer within a voluntary or community organisation, or the public sector
  • Community activism, campaigning and action to change society or identify and tackle unmet needs
  • Befriending and mentoring
  • Organising sports and physical recreation
  • Taking part in running a voluntary or community organisation as a trustee or member of a board or committee
  • Serving as a non-executive member of a public body or participating in civic governance, for instance serving as a school governor or a community representative
  • Leading a voluntary initiative, usually as part of a voluntary organisation or community group, to improve the quality of life for people in a neighbourhood or community of interest
  • Group activity, within a neighbourhood or community of interest, providing a community service, or campaigning for a public cause
  • Helping develop public policy through involvement in consultation processes and campaigning
  • Volunteering overseas
  • Helping raise funds for an organisation