Editorial: The difficult search for a common voice

Stephen Cook, editor

It's good news that the Workforce Hub has produced a careers guide for school leavers and graduates called Working for a Better World.

It's the kind of outward-facing, generic public relations work the sector needs more of. The research that underpins the initiative indicates that young people between 14 and 18 know little about working in the voluntary sector and do not see a career in charities as a proper job.

The reality of working for a charity is no doubt one of many things people in that age group have yet to discover. But there are likely to be other factors at work. One may be that organisations that to some extent are in competition for funds, members and influence sometimes end up working in parallel rather than together. That makes it more difficult than it otherwise might be to produce initiatives designed to promote or enhance the image and the activities of the sector as a whole. It was a shame, for example, that the Giving Campaign failed to survive for longer than it did because of a lack of general support. In the private sector, competing organisations do find the resources to form industry councils to work and speak on behalf of all. Doesn't the voluntary sector need something similar? The ImpACT coalition has made a start, but there is a case for something more wide-ranging.

Another factor could be a residual reluctance to disabuse the wider public about the nature of the bigger charities in the 21st century. Too many might still feel it's actually just as well that a lot of people continue to think mistakenly that everyone is a volunteer and every penny goes to the cause. Are enough organisations happy to sign up to a statement such as "we are a modern, professional sector, we employ the best people and pay them as well as we can, and we use some of the funds you give us to raise even more money for the causes we're passionate about"?

Six weeks ago it was announced that the Department for Work and Pensions had seen the light and was going to let volunteers claim lunch expenses without losing benefits they might be receiving.

The latest information from the well-informed Dame Elisabeth Hoodless is that nothing has yet happened. How lackadaisical can you get? There's clearly some way to go before we achieve the vision of third sector minister Ed Miliband, in which "every department is a third sector department".

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