Rob Jackson: Volunteers can help to plug the £4.6bn funding hole

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations recently announced the findings of its review of the financial sustainability of the voluntary sector’s finances. The headline finding from the review is that the sector faces a £4.6bn projected shortfall in income by 2018/19.

Michael Birtwistle, senior policy officer at NCVO, said in a blog that the review found that "many organisations have reached, or are approaching, a capacity crunch as a result of successive cuts to back office and management capacity. In combination with rising demand, these cuts are now affecting organisations’ ability to engage with even familiar sources of funding, and inhibiting the development of new types of income."

Yet again we see a key problem in the sector – the apparent belief that the goal is raising income rather than delivering services to fulfil our missions. There are other ways to get things done than just by paying for them with cold hard cash. In fact, if that’s all the sector sees as its available resource, we become no different to the private sector.

Sustainability of the voluntary sector organisations is important, but it isn’t just about money. Other resources are key too, including volunteering.

As US volunteering consultant Tobi Johnson wrote back in April: "In the face of ever-growing community needs and persistent economic strains on non-profits, volunteerism isn’t just a nice thing. It’s a necessary thing. Volunteerism is a strategic choice to use human resources to build capacity, and recent data shows it works. The Points of Light Service Enterprise Initiative research finds that organisations that leverage volunteers across all levels of their enterprise, and manage them effectively, run at nearly half the median budget."

Half the median budget. Now don’t read that wrong. That’s not saying senior managers and boards can recruit volunteers so they can lay off staff and run an organisation on half the budget. It’s saying that where volunteers are effectively engaged, financial resources can be released to help the organisation do more, either in direct service or to help address the capacity crunch NCVO’s blog mentioned.

This requires organisations to look at the full mix of resources available, to value them accordingly and to deploy them most effectively in pursuit of the mission.

So, let’s look at some sums to relate volunteering to that £4.6bn projected income shortfall by 2018/19.

  • To perform a commonly used calculation of the financial value of volunteers, let’s assume an hour of a volunteer’s time is valued at the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour.
  • Therefore £4.6bn equates to 707,692,307.69 volunteer hours.
  • 19.2 million people volunteer at least once a year, according to the Community Life survey.
  • So £4.6bn would equate to each of those existing volunteers giving just under 37 hours a year more of their time.

In other words, we could make up the projected £4.6bn resource shortfall if we just got people already volunteering to give 42.5 minutes more a week of their time.

This, of course, is back-of-a-fag-packet stuff, but it illustrates that with a little creative thinking and a broader understanding of the resources we have at our disposal, the sector can step up to the challenges of the future if it is willing to change and adapt. As US basketball coach John Wooden said, "Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be."

Rob Jackson is a volunteering consultant

This article was first published on the Third Sector blog

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