Opinion: Hot issue - Do charities do enough to foster BME volunteering opportunities?

CRE chair Trevor Phillips recently said charities must combat racism in the sector, while BTCV chief Tom Flood has pledged to make his charity representative of the communities it serves.

NO: Leroy Richards, senior policy officer, Race on the Agenda

Some do, but more could be done. The question, however, assumes that black and minority ethnic people do not volunteer and that there are no BME charities. Yet many people give up time to fill the gaps left by the statutory sector, and often outside the framework of mainstream charities.

Traditionally, BME volunteers are older and volunteer in response to particular needs such as caring for the elderly or providing supplementary education. Within mainstream white communities, the reasons for volunteering appear to be based around philanthropic work by the fairly well-off. We would argue that mainstream charities could do more to support existing BME volunteer projects and to recognise the diversity and the different needs and aspirations in BME communities. They may also wish to look at incentives, such as training or work opportunities to encourage more young people.

We are running a project in Islington, which seeks to encourage BME communities to reconsider the value and role of voluntary activity in spheres such as education (school governors), law (magistrates) and civic representation (councillors), after research revealed that BME residents were under-represented in all those areas.

YES: Elizabeth Salter, CSV Make a Difference Day campaign manager

There has been progress to create volunteering opportunities for BME groups - however, more can be done. Our experience shows that volunteering is happening in many communities, but that these people might not see themselves as volunteers - language and cultural perceptions can skew the statistics. However, people from all backgrounds have the chance to volunteer.

Research from campaigns such as CSV Make a Difference Day, the UK's biggest day of 'hands-on' volunteering, shows that 93 per cent of first-time volunteers get hooked and want to carry on. There is no reason why this should not apply across all communities.

Working with projects such as the Muslim Youth Helpline shows us that creating volunteering opportunities can really boost citizen engagement among young people from minority backgrounds.

BME communities need to be given a voice to enable a better understanding of their cultures. We know through CSV Media the benefits of empowering communities through film and radio to tell their story to others. We look forward to the day when people throughout the UK have the opportunity to give their time and skills freely.

YES: Kate Power, national volunteer co-ordinator, Scope

At Scope we have an excellent community fieldwork service for England and Wales, which enables us to make personal contact with all communities.

We subscribe to Language Line and regularly provide free interpreters for potential volunteers and service users.

Our fieldwork team in London covers all 33 boroughs, so they are able to make a fantastic range of referrals to our London Volunteer Network.

As a result about one third of our volunteers and our volunteer management board come from BME communities.

Although there is a cost implication for Scope when providing translators for BME volunteers whose first language is not English, we find that the barriers facing disabled volunteers are greater. Disabled people may need adjustments to enable them to volunteer, such as adapted computer equipment, support staff, or taxis where public transport is inaccessible. The Access to Work scheme pays for adjustments for disabled people in employment, but not for volunteers. As a disability rights organisation we are able to prioritise funding for adjustments, but many charities cannot do this and are forced to discriminate against disabled volunteers.

NO: David Obaze, director, National Coalition for Black Volunteering

The answer is unequivocally no. Mainstream charities assume that people from BME communities do not volunteer. Apart from this false belief, discrimination is one other reason that charities do not offer volunteering opportunities.

The only way forward is for charities to build closer relationships with the BME voluntary sector, by either networking or partnering with BME organisations. The National Coalition for Black Volunteering and Victim Support London are working together on a project funded by the Community Fund to promote BME people to get involved in mainstream voluntary agencies.

Unlike charities, the BME voluntary sector lacks consistent funding, infrastructure and capacity building. It has no access to mainstream conferences or open days, where it can have the opportunities to meet others and exchange views because of the high entry fees imposed by charities. If charities really want to foster BME volunteering, they can start by changing their attitudes and practices towards black people. They should, for example, adopt equitable and practical equal opportunities policies whereby it would be possible to challenge any discriminatory and racial practices.

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