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4th June 2024

Fair Funding is essential for sustainable volunteering

Volunteers’ Week is upon us and, for the past 40 years, has been a key opportunity to celebrate the contribution of volunteers across the country. Many volunteer-involving organisations will be busy hanging out the bunting, printing certificates, hosting tea parties or recognising the achievements of volunteers on social media.

Whilst volunteers are always unpaid, much of the activity this week – to recognise and celebrate volunteering – will require some financial resource. Budget is also required for activity to support volunteer recruitment, training and ongoing management. The costs associated with legislative compliance around volunteer involvement, including health and safety, protection of vulnerable groups and data protection can also be considerable. Building a team of skilled, confident, and experienced volunteers usually requires considerable time and money. Many organisations have dedicated paid staff capacity for managing volunteers, but even those that don’t will still require some budget.

The Volunteer Charter, which sets out 10 principles for the legitimate and sustainable engagement of volunteers, states that ‘out of pocket expenses should be covered’ and that ‘no one should be prevented from volunteering due to their income.’ It also details the requirement for ‘effective structures to support train and develop volunteers’, and that volunteers ‘should be able to carry out their duties in safe, secure and healthy environments’.

The resource requirements for managing volunteers have come into sharp focus throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent cost of living crisis. The most recent SCVO third sector tracker findings from winter 2023 showed that over half of respondents believe that their reserves are very important or essential to their short to medium term survival, and a quarter (24%) said that they had experienced delays in receiving funding over the last four months. This financial uncertainty has a considerable impact on the experiences of volunteers.

In our Testing our Resilience’ report from September 2022, we predicted that any decline in financial sustainability of volunteer involving organisations as a result of the cost of living crisis could contribute to a reduction in volunteer-led services, falling standards of volunteer experience and a potential decline in formal volunteering. Fast forward a few years and it appears our predictions are coming to pass. The most recent Scottish Household Survey results have shown that formal volunteer participation has declined significantly from 26% in 2019 to 22% in 2022.

Whilst this decline in volunteering cannot be wholly attributed to the challenging financial environment facing volunteer involving organisations, it definitely is not helping matters. A lack of secure and sustainable income means that organisations are often forced to cut spending which could lead to a decrease in resource for volunteering. Late funding awards also mean that organisations often struggle to plan ahead, making it difficult to provide security for both staff and volunteers.

SCVO believe that funding for the voluntary sector should be fair, flexible, sustainable, and accessible. In practice, this means that funding should be longer term, allow for unrestricted core costs, be uplifted in line with inflation, and accommodate paying staff the Real Living Wage. The Scottish Government have committed to ‘fairer funding’ by 2026, but SCVO are calling for the government to align ‘fairer funding’ with their definition of Fair Funding.

At Volunteer Scotland we know that the Scottish Government values the contribution of volunteering, as demonstrated with the publication of the Volunteering Action Plan in 2022 and subsequent endorsement of the Volunteer Charter. However, we are in full agreement with SCVO’s calls for Fair Funding and urge the new First Minister to reflect on this during Volunteers’ Week. Without a clear commitment to Fair Funding for the voluntary sector – as defined by SCVO – the Volunteering Action Plan and the principles of the Volunteer Charter will be increasingly difficult to achieve.

This article originally appeared in Third Force News (TFN)

Sarah Latto

Policy Officer