Interview: Stephen Dale of Volunteering Bristol

He tells Femke Colborne why charities need to consider charging for services.

Stephen Dale, Volunteering Bristol
Stephen Dale, Volunteering Bristol

Stephen Dale has inherited a common problem in his new job as chief executive of Volunteering Bristol: the threat of reduced funding coupled with a huge increase in demand for the organisation's services since the start of the economic downturn. But Dale is proposing a bold solution: he intends to consider ways the charity could charge for some new services.

"We need to diversify our income streams to survive," he says. "Volunteer centres traditionally don't charge for their services: they are free to the volunteers and to the organisations that use them."

The 35-year-old joined Volunteering Bristol in July - "I've been brought in with an income-generation remit" - after two years as chief executive of the Volunteer Centre Bath and North East Somerset. Before that, he worked on the Millennium Volunteers project in Bath and ran the Community Volunteer Programme at the University of the West of England.

There are three main strands to Volunteering Bristol's work. The first is its volunteer centre, where people can drop in to find out about local volunteering opportunities. The centre advertises opportunities on behalf of local groups, a free service currently funded by Bristol City Council.

The second is supporting volunteer managers in the city: the organisation employs a support worker who offers training and advice. Further support is available from its conferences, networking events and good practice guides.

The third strand of the centre's work is to help voluntary groups get to hard-to-reach volunteers through a Capacitybuilders-funded project.

Dale believes diversifying the charity's income is particularly important in the light of the big society agenda. He believes Volunteering Bristol has no choice but to consider charging for some of its services - "the fact of the matter is that we have to find a source of unrestricted income", he says.

So the organisation is about to launch a consultation to find out what new services - "if any" - the charities that use its services would be interested in paying for.

"We think there are new services we could charge for - such as recruiting and training volunteers," he says. In his previous roles, Dale says, charities have suggested they would be willing to pay for volunteer screening, among other services, but he stresses that no decisions have yet been taken.

Charging for services will mean striking a delicate balance, he says: "We have to tread a path between finding income and keeping volunteering as a freely given thing that people do not make a profit from."

Topics:
Management

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