THINKPIECE: Volunteering must adapt to society now

Trading on the implicit worthiness of volunteering is no longer sustainable or appealing. At WRVS we are increasingly emphasising a range of side benefits that volunteering can bring.

The traditional hunting ground for volunteers is changing, and we need to engage with people's different motivations and needs. There are more working mothers and people who return to work when their children have left home. Few people have a wealth of free time, so we need to actively target those who would not traditionally be the main core of the volunteer base - students looking to improve their CV, those in full-time employment, people seeking qualifications as a route to employment, and black or minority ethnic communities.

WRVS is taking positive action to respond to these needs. We have hired a BME recruitment worker in Birmingham to engage with the large BME community, we have projects offering NVQ qualifications, and flexible opportunities to those in full-time work.

The increasing involvement of voluntary organisations in the delivery of services gives us the opportunity to demonstrate to local authorities and volunteers how innovative, community focused, flexible, committed and effective the sector is. The voluntary sector is also uniquely placed to provide a link to communities and groups that are traditionally hard to reach or isolated.

For example, Meals on Wheels volunteers can deliver 70,000 advice leaflets per year directly into the hands of older people, so they know how to stay warm and claim benefits.

We believe that the way forward is for charities is to focus on developing innovative services that reflect society's changing needs - and that when we get this right, it will in turn act as a magnet for more volunteers, confident that the proposition we offer is one that works. Mark Lever is chief executive of WRVS

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