Analysis: Volunteering website Do-it faces questions of future funding

YouthNet chief executive Emma Thomas says the website has "moved beyond its core mission of helping young people" and will transfer to ivo.org

Emma Thomas
Emma Thomas

For the past 12 years the young people's charity YouthNet has run a volunteering website called Do-it, which directs would-be volunteers to volunteering opportunities. Since it was launched by the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, it has received millions of pounds in government funding and been hailed as a success in the world of volunteering.

In April this year, however, YouthNet announced that it would invite bids from other organisations to take over Do-it because, according to YouthNet chief executive Emma Thomas, the website had "moved beyond our core mission of helping young people". She will not say who put in bids, although the volunteering arm of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations - formerly Volunteering England - is known to be one of the unsuccessful applicants.

The winning bid, announced in August, was the volunteering social networking site ivo.org, which, in partnership with other online organisations, will take ownership of Do-it in December. Ivo is run by Jamie Jamie Ward-SmithWard-Smith (right), who has a long track record in volunteering and helped to set up Do-it in 2001.

His career also includes running the Kensington and Chelsea Volunteering Centre in London, working in the Home Office Active Communities Unit, which later became the Office for Civil Society, and running the Russell Commission, which led to a £100m Treasury investment in the youth volunteering charity v.

The key question about the future of Do-it, which currently employs six members of staff and costs £700,000 a year to run, appears to be how it will be funded in the longer term. In the two years to March 2013 it received about £1m in funding from the Cabinet Office, with a further £239,000 from that source in 2013, plus £154,000 from the Big Lottery Fund and £180,000 of 'gift-in-kind' funding from the software company Oracle. Further funding came from other gift-in-kind deals and from fees for its software and associated training and support, including sales of the site's V-Base software, which costs up to £650 a year.

The Cabinet Office has pledged to pay the costs, as yet unspecified, of moving Do-it to ivo, but says it will not fund the site beyond the year 2015/16. This opens the way for the government to achieve two key objectives - improving rates of volunteering while also reducing public spending - but leaves ivo with the challenge of financing the site by other means from 2016.

Ward-Smith says he is confident that the site will continue to be free for users. "We have a strong plan in place to enable Do-it to become self-sufficient," he says. "This is driven by the core premise of making Do-it free to use for volunteers and for charities and community groups." Further details of the plan will be announced later in the year, he says.

Ward-Smith says ivo's current volunteer recruitment services will be transferred to Do-it, while ivo will concentrate on its other function of acting as a social networking site for volunteer managers. Future plans also include "new facilities for volunteers to record their work and have it endorsed by the charities they help so they can share their achievements with others", he says.

Do-it's current model allows would-be volunteers to find opportunities in their local areas by using a search based on their postcodes. Most of the opportunities are posted on the site by local volunteer centres, using Do-it's V-Base software, given to them free of charge. Centres can manage their opportunities and respond directly once applications are made. Individual charities and volunteering organisations can either work through volunteer centres, pay for a Do-It recruiter account or purchase the V-Base software.

Ward-Smith says the site will continue to maintain its strong relationship with volunteer centres. "We are already consulting them about how we can make it easier for them to engage," he says.

Justin Davis Smith, volunteering and development director of the NCVO, says Do-it's relationship with volunteer centres is key and the website is unlikely to succeed without them. The centres play a vital role in supporting small local charities, he says, and it is often through their work that opportunities are created.

"Volunteer centres are facing a difficult future and, unless they are there to create those opportunities and help organisations to develop and post them on Do-it, then the future of Do-it will be less assured than it is now," Davis Smith says.

Meanwhile, it is difficult to establish how successful Do-it has been in actually connecting volunteers with charities: applications go through to the organisation that posted the opportunity, which does not automatically inform the website if it takes someone on.

But it is possible to see how many people have used the website. According to YouthNet, Do-it had an average of 192,877 unique users a month between July 2012 and June 2013 - an increase on the previous year's figure of 181,139. About 1,000 would-be volunteers are registering on the site every day, and 1.1 million have registered since the registration process was introduced in 2004.

£700k - The amount that it cost to run Do-it last year

192,877 - Average number of unique users a month on Do-it in the year to June 2013

1.1m - Number of people who have registered on the site since 2004

Topics:
Volunteering

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