In its report Manifesto for Change, published on Monday, the Commission on the Future of Volunteering concluded that voluntary organisations are not doing enough to encourage would-be volunteers and support existing volunteers.
Many are failing to communicate the breadth of opportunity available, it said, leaving people with outdated views about volunteering.
"Volunteers need to be encouraged and inducted as soon as possible, because failure to do so can be perceived as apathy or even rejection," the report reads.
Volunteering England agreed that charities must act. "We acknowledge the need to get our own house in order if we are to provide an environment in which volunteering can truly thrive," said Justin Davis Smith, its chief executive. "We must acknowledge that there are still multiple barriers to volunteering, and many of them are not new.
"Partnership must be our watchword: partnership between government and the sector, strengthening existing networks rather than creating new initiatives; and partnership between sector organisations, complementing each other rather than competing."
Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust and a member of the commission, emphasised the report's finding that charities must do more to reach under-represented groups. "Across the National Trust we have projects working with young people, people with disabilities and other marginalised groups, but this is not universal," she said. "These projects are helping us to understand how we need to change as an organisation to make this the norm and not the exception."
Debbie Usiskin, a founder of the Association of Volunteer Managers, welcomed the report's call for accredited training. "For a range of reasons, including increased regulation and inspection as well as the diversification of the volunteer force, volunteering is becoming increasingly complex," she said. "Volunteer managers want training and support. This is supported by the commission, which recommends action without delay."
The report, based on evidence taken from more than 1,000 people, also revealed criticism of Government initiatives to promote volunteering. Respondents pointed to insufficient planning, lack of communication, short-termism and too much emphasis on targets.
Charities welcomed proposals to tackle these issues, such as a cabinet minister for volunteering and an extra £6m of funding (Third Sector Online, 28 January).
A spokeswoman for the Office of the Third Sector said it welcomed the report and would respond comprehensively in February.
The Government should:
- Make a cabinet minister responsible for volunteering
- Make a parliamentary select committee responsible for volunteering
- Provide £1m to help under-represented groups
- Set up a £5m annual match fund to support partnerships between charities and councils
- Set targets for volunteering by public servants
- Monitor use of the Compact and volunteering code of practice
- Ask regulators such as Ofsted to report on support for volunteers
The sector should:
- Find creative ways of appealing to people's strengths and passions
- Raise the profile of volunteering and existing promotional events
- Promote employee volunteering in the sector
- Introduce local volunteering champions
- Do more to recognise and reward volunteers
- Commit to basic training, support volunteering managers and develop a recognised accreditation scheme.