Four charities will share £6.5m to provide volunteering opportunities for the long-term unemployed in England.
The Department for Work and Pensions will award the money to prime contractor BTCV, which will work with subcontractors CSV, Volunteering England and v to deliver the scheme over the next two years.
The funding is part of the Government's third sector action plan, which was announced in February to help voluntary organisations cope with the impact of the recession (Third Sector Online, 8 February).
Job centres will give people who have been unemployed for more than six months a volunteering freephone number for Doncaster-based BTCV.
The organisation then has five days to consult with its subcontractors on the opportunities that are available before coming up with an offer.
"It will require a lot of trust and dialogue between the four charities," said Tom Flood, chief executive of BTCV, which has previously delivered welfare to work programmes on behalf of the DWP.
He emphasised the scheme would not be compulsory for jobseekers. "If it had been, we would not have been able to hold the contract because it goes against our values," he said.
Charities will be paid up to £200 for each volunteer they take on, said Flood.
Ministers hope the scheme will help the long-term unemployed develop skills.
The DWP has awarded separate contracts to Welsh umbrella body WCVA and Volunteer Development Scotland to run similar schemes in Wales and Scotland.
A DWP spokeswoman said 40,000 people were expected to take part in the scheme, but it was difficult to give an accurate figure because jobseekers could choose whether they would participate.
This story was modified on 9 April 2009 on receipt of revised information to make it clear that charities will be paid up to £200 per volunteer including expenses.