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Volunteering Strategy

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Volunteering Strategy

chapter one THE BACKGROUND

Defining volunteering

14. The definition of volunteering used for the Strategy is:

"Volunteering is the giving of time and energy through a third party, which can bring measurable benefits to the volunteer, individual beneficiaries, groups and organisations, communities, the environment and society at large. It is a choice undertaken of one's own free will, and is not motivated primarily for financial gain or for a wage or salary."

15. As such the Strategy is focused on formal or organised volunteering, rather than more informal volunteering activities such as babysitting for a friend or checking on an elderly neighbour. It will also promote volunteering as an activity which brings particular values and is distinct from paid work. Details of the rationale for this definition can be found in annex A.

Volunteering in Scotland

16. Scotland has a healthy volunteering foundation on which to build. Figures for numbers volunteering in Scotland are healthy in comparison with other areas of the UK. The last UK Volunteering Survey carried out by the National Centre for Volunteering in 1997 suggested that 50% of Scots had volunteered in some capacity during the previous 12 months, a figure just above that for the rest of the UK. In addition to these relatively high rates of volunteering, Scotland is fortunate in having a relatively well developed volunteering infrastructure. For example, there is a national network of over 50 Volunteer Centres core funded by the Scottish Executive, with coverage in every local authority area. There is a national body, Volunteer Development Scotland (VDS), also core funded by the Scottish Executive, which promotes, supports and develops volunteering at a national level.

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The majority of mountain rescue teams in Scotland consist entirely of volunteers
who readily give up their own time often risking life and limb,
to aid the police in saving lives on the hills and mountains of Scotland.

Volunteering and the Scottish Executive

17. People volunteer for all sorts of reasons. They may want to acquire new skills, they may wish to contribute to community life, or they may have a particular interest or cause which they wish to pursue. In many cases an individual act of volunteering contributes to wider policy objectives set by the Scottish Executive. Volunteering can contribute to growth in the economy, delivering excellence in public services and supporting strong communities. It also plays a key role in supporting many of the higher-level policy priorities in areas such as Health, Crime, Education, Transport and Jobs. Examples of everyday practical volunteering which contribute in some way to the achievement of public policy objectives include: victim and witness support schemes; support services within hospitals, and the delivery of transport services for hospital patients, which is particularly important in rural areas; youth work; and the delivery of financial services via Credit Unions.

18. The impact of volunteering on volunteers themselves also contributes to public policy objectives. Volunteering can help provide a route into employment, education or training, and is particularly beneficial in developing softer skills, such as teamwork and communication, of which there is a shortage in Scotland. It can help those experiencing difficulties in their lives such as addiction, homelessness and mental health problems, to get back on their feet and become fully integrated into communities. For older volunteers in particular, volunteering can improve physical health and mental well-being, providing a means to keep active and contribute to communities. Volunteering can also contribute to the development of social capital, and as such helps support the Scottish Executive's vision of creating a Scotland which cares for its people, where opportunities are increasing for everyone, where enterprise is rewarded, and where people have confidence in their communities and in public services.

19. Volunteering also has a role to play in informing the development and delivery of policy. Volunteering organisations are often at the sharp end of policy implementation, and so can share their front-line experience with those who develop and shape policy. This is particularly pertinent given the emergence of Community Planning as the principal mechanism for improving public service delivery and ensuring that communities, including young people in those communities, have a more articulate role at the heart of decision-making.

20. All of these factors demonstrate why the Scottish Executive has committed to support volunteering. Within the Social Justice agenda, there is commitment to "increase the number of people across all communities taking part in voluntary activities". This has been strengthened by a number of our 2003 Partnership Agreement commitments, including those which aim to:

  • "support those people who make a valuable contribution to the people and communities of Scotland through their work in the voluntary sector and volunteering"; and
  • "encourage the more active involvement of young people in the lives of their communities and wider society through the introduction of a scheme, alongside the existing Millennium Volunteers scheme, which recognises youth volunteering".

21. The Scottish Executive has a major impact on the volunteering market in Scotland. In addition to being a major funder of volunteering, it has a variety of roles including those of:

  • Policy maker of cross-cutting policies and priorities, which impact on, benefit from, and implement the Volunteering Strategy;
  • Legislator - alongside Westminster and international law there are a number of areas of regulation which impact on volunteering and require ongoing proofing and scrutiny;
  • Influencer of the different sectors, including the public sector, in how it should approach volunteer development, and the private sector on how it can support it;
  • An intelligence gatherer about Scottish society, for example through the Scottish Household Survey; and
  • A role model, for example by encouraging volunteering within its own staff.

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Working in health, social work and social care
helps many volunteers to decide to seek a career in these areas.

Strategy aim and development process

22. In June 2003 the Scottish Executive appointed Volunteer Development Scotland (VDS) to play the lead role in developing the new strategic framework for volunteer development in Scotland. Their remit required a five-year look forward and asked them to identify how the Scottish Executive could provide leadership and support to embed a robust culture of volunteering in Scotland. In carrying this task out, VDS was asked to build on lessons from previous policy and programmes. This includes the Active Communities Initiative, alongside other strands of work to promote volunteering and community action, particularly those involving young people. The evidence from this work forms the basis of the Scottish Executive Volunteering Strategy. Information on the evidence gathering process can be found in annex B.

Developing the volunteering agenda

23. VDS reported that, in the course of their work on behalf of the Scottish Executive, they heard many powerful stories about how volunteering benefits the individual, the intended beneficiary, the organisation and society at large. Many people talked about the personal fulfilment they achieved through volunteering - the association with others, the commitment to a cause or issue and the increase in self-esteem that comes with helping others. Many organisations explained that they would simply not exist without volunteers serving on their management committees, raising funds or delivering services.

24. While it is clear that significant activity takes place through volunteering, there is a strong sense that more could and should be achieved. Previously, volunteering has been promoted almost as an end in itself, as an action which is intrinsically good and worthy. While this may be the case, it has been argued that this approach has inadvertently marginalised volunteering. For volunteering to reach its true potential, to rise on the agenda of policy makers, funders, and senior managers, it needs to be seen for what it is: a human resource; a way of getting things done; and as a way of enabling citizens to play an active part in their geographical community or in their community of interest, while satisfying the needs and aspirations of individual volunteers. The Scottish Executive endorses this approach.

25. In a sector which is essentially independent, interventions should be focused on facilitating conditions for a healthy volunteering market in terms of supply of and demand for volunteers. Priority should be given to action to address market failures, for example in the failure to make volunteering consistently accessible to those from disadvantaged communities, and to maximise market opportunities, for example to involve more young people in volunteering.

The current picture of volunteering - supply and demand

26. It is difficult to be precise about the supply of, and demand for, volunteers as there are many significant knowledge gaps about volunteering. However, many organisations, from local community groups to national organisations, do report shortages. This problem is coupled with the presence of significant barriers to those who would potentially volunteer, such as lack of awareness of volunteering opportunities and how to get involved, or the false perception of having little to offer. Trying to reconcile these issues and reach equilibrium between the supply of, and the demand for, volunteers will be vital for the future success of volunteering.

27. Against this background the Scottish Executive will continue to develop and improve mechanisms to ensure that its policy creates the optimum conditions to enable the volunteering sector to reach its full potential.

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139,000 people in Scotland are regular volunteers in the health service.
Volunteers work in hospitals and the community providing invaluable practical
and emotional support in a variety of ways;
from counselling to hospital radio and patient transport schemes to aromatherapy.