Participaction – The new name for volunteering

I have been in denial. No, I am not doing a bad joke about a river in Egypt, but referring to my coming around to the notion that the word ‘volunteer’ is not as cool and sexy as it used to be. The concept of giving time to help others is still very much cool, it’s just that the word volunteer is not so much.

This is hard for me to accept. I am a passionate and determined proponent of volunteering and firmly believe and can demonstrate that volunteers, every day, change the world to make our communities better places. How can the notion of someone giving just a little bit of their busy lives to help someone else not be seen as amazing or cool?

The problem is that volunteering actually covers a vast range of activities but is often used to refer to something far more narrow, namely formal volunteering, i.e. a formal defined in detail volunteer role within a charity, usually involving the volunteer committing time regularly on an ongoing basis. The reality is that volunteering covers all giving of time, including informal volunteering such as being a good neighbour or baby-sitting for a friend, micro-volunteering such as Be My Eyes or ad hoc volunteering.

Although any giving of time is volunteering the core work of Volunteer Centres is focused on formal volunteering, acting as a much needed volunteer recruitment service for the thousands of great charities that desperately need the involvement of volunteers to support their service to the community. However, I strongly believe that Volunteer Centres should not be constrained by such a narrow field of work and that they can and should work to promote and develop all forms of volunteering.

In the last couple of years the word ‘participation’ has become more popular. There is a significant strengthening trend and desire to create a more participatory culture within communities where people feel they should and can be the part of a solution to a problem rather than simply writing a letter of complaint for their local authority to deal with. To help make communities more resilient and cohesive, there needs to be tools as well as a culture to enable people, organisations and businesses to work together to tackle priority social issues.

Although this type of participation or social action is, technically, very much volunteering it is not really seen as such by those who are doing it. I know of a couple of people who would actually hate and object to being described as someone who volunteers but they often give their time informally, which is still volunteering but they will not hear of it. Those in a street who campaign and fundraise to improve the environment and air quality in their area would probably not consider themselves volunteers, but yet they are.

So, instead do we say they are participating? The word participation is by itself too vague to be used. It’s not enough to say someone is participating, it needs to be stronger and suggest something positive, that it creates action leading to a change.

Put that all together and we have Participaction. Admittedly, the word looks better than it sounds, but it encapsulates exactly what is desired from volunteering today. Participaction covers both informal and formal volunteering that delivers positive action through a person participating in their local community. I am not suggesting abandoning the term ‘volunteering’ but sometimes new terms help focus motivations through aligning with current trends.

So Participaction is still volunteering but it’s framing it in a way that reflects the way people want to volunteer today. Whether it’s formal or informal, volunteering today needs to take a participaction approach to get high levels of engagement and support.

2022-23 UK Employee Volunteering Survey

Survey: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/5R8ZBC3

There is a big contrast in the significant level of employee volunteering activity in the UK compared to the small amount of data, analysis and research on this topic. It is actually quite surprising.

Employee volunteering specialist, not-for-profit Works4U, is addressing this large gap by launching a dedicated employee volunteering survey that will provide, perhaps for the first time, real analysis on the employee volunteering experience. Works4U will release the results of the survey in 2023 and its aim is to this annually to provide regular up-to-date analysis on employee volunteering.

Works4U will be able to report back on aspects of employee volunteering we do not currently have any proper data about. For example, on average, how much time off is given by employers to carry out employee volunteering? Does this vary by the size of organisation? How is the employee volunteering organised? How much impact did the employee volunteers think their volunteering had?

This data and analysis will give great insight into how businesses carry out employee volunteering and whether they are maximising the potential of its impact for their organisation, their employees and for the community.

It is clear to see in 2022 that businesses take far more seriously their social responsibility compared to ten years ago. Terminology in this area moving from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to social or community impact with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) being most prevalent amongst larger corporations. Whatever the terminology is used, employee volunteering and how it is carried out is an important part of this work.

The survey is open to anyone working for any type of organisation (private, public or voluntary sector) where there are 5 or more employees.

You can view, complete or share the survey using this link:


Lead Volunteering Organisation (LVO) Quality Standard is Live!

Lead Volunteering Organisation (LVO) Quality Standard from Works4U

I am proud and pleased to say the brand new Quality Standard called Lead Volunteering Organisation (LVO) is now live!

Designed by a volunteer infrastructure organisation for volunteer infrastructure organisations. To explain in other words, I have selfishly created a Quality Standard that I want for my volunteer infrastructure organisations and so it will probably be beneficial for others too.

NCVO’s announcement last year that it was no longer delivering quality standards and would be handing over VCQA to another organisation has led to many volunteer infrastructure organisations thinking about quality standards for the first time in a few years.

“What Quality Standard is right for my organisation?”

“Do I even need a Quality Standard?”

“What about the costs and time to do it?”

“If I don’t do it, will a rival organisation do it?”

The reason the Lead Volunteering Organisation (LVO) Quality Standard works for my organisations is that it is an accreditation that not only independently assesses my organisation as the lead volunteering organisation for my area, but will actually help me raise the organisation’s profile with funders, partners, stakeholders and beneficiaries. It is both straight forward to carry out and inexpensive.

It is also, by definition, exclusive so I can be assured that no other organisation will be able to get it. Only organisations that can truly demonstrate they are the lead volunteering organisation will be able to provide the necessary evidence to meet the standard.

The LVO Quality Standard has 5 main areas:

  1. Acting as Lead Volunteer Agency for Area
  2. Connecting People to Volunteering Opportunities
  3. Promoting & Championing Volunteering
  4. Supporting Volunteer Managers and Developing Good Practice
  5. Emergency Volunteering

Through researching volunteer infrastructure organisations across the country it became crystal clear very quickly that a “one-size-fits-all’ prescriptive approach to evidence for LVO would not work. Depending on funding, the voluntary sector environment, local authorities, organisational ethos and models of practice, volunteer infrastructure can look quite different across England. Therefore, LVO takes a flexible but robust approach to providing evidence to meet the 5 areas of the standard.

To help organisations understand more about LVO to assess if it is right for their organisation, two information webinars with Q&A have been set up. The first was on 27th July which generated lots of positive discussion and the second one is online on Thurs Sept 8th at 11am. If you would like to attend, please click this link to register on Eventbrite:

If you want to know more but cannot attend or wait for the webinar, please contact me: dominic@works-4u.com

Under 3mins Pitch: Why being a Trustee is the best Volunteer role

In the video below, I outline in under 3 minutes why being a Trustee is the very best volunteer role there is.

If you cannot bear looking at my face for that long, and I do not blame you, then you can read my blog article explaining similar arguments.

Initial Response to Kruger ‘Levelling up Communities’ Report

Last week the government published the ‘Levelling up our communities: proposals for a new social covenant’, report by Danny Kruger MP which has recommendations and suggestions for developing civil society based on the amazing response by the voluntary and community sector to the Covid-19 pandemic. In late June Danny was asked [note: I am not actually on first named terms with him, but for the purpose of this article I shall be. Just go with it] by our Prime Minister, who I am not on first name terms with, to look into the sector’s response and a month later he submitted his report.

There is a lot covered and suggested in the 52 page report and some of what Danny writes and concludes are firm recommendations to implement and others are more ‘why don’t we try this?’ suggestions. I am not going to forensically analyse all of the report but here are my thoughts and responses to what I see as the highlights regarding the charity sector and volunteering as this is my professional area of expertise. [For those who don’t know me, I run 2 independent volunteering charities and a social enterprise]

There is a lot in the report that our sector should take forward but there are also some recommendations and suggestions that are either incorrect or I personally do not agree with. However, I must say I agree with the spirit and intention of most of the report and feel this a great marker in the ground and an opportunity the sector should seize and take forward. We should perhaps not focus on the precise detail and mechanics of the recommendations, but the spirit and high-level intentions and work with Danny and the government to find the best way to achieve them.

The big message I take away is that Kruger thinks the work of charities should be valued higher, the sector should have more money, there should be more and easier ways to volunteer, businesses are and should be increasingly part of civil society, social value procurement should be far more effective and we should value and put more importance on local power and spaces. That is great! Let’s run with this, work together and make this happen.

Dominic Pinkney

Of the 20 specific recommendations of the report, the key ones I believe we should seize upon are:

Kruger Recommendation #1. New official measures to understand and track the economic and social contribution of civil society  

Kruger Recommendation #3. Negotiation with Big Tech firms to finance and co-design new, non-proprietary digital infrastructure for communities

Kruger Recommendation #4. A new commitment to ‘social value’ commissioning, considering the whole of government accounts rather than a single budget

Kruger Recommendation #17 Options to boost philanthropy, including civic crowdfunding, and social investment

Kruger Recommendation #18 A new £500m Community Recovery Fund, financed by the allocation of the dormant National Fund, for charities and community groups supporting the transition from the ‘response’ to the ‘recovery’ phase

Kruger Recommendation #19 Consult on the use of the £2bn+ which will shortly be available from new dormant assets: options include a new endowment, the Levelling Up Communities (LUC) Fund, for perpetual investment in long-term, transformational, community-led local projects in left-behind areas

Building on what Danny has said I have also added my recommendations:

Dominic’s Recommendation #1
(a) Government commits to helping to get all of the £750million already awarded out to charities and community organisations who need it as soon as possible.
(b) A commitment of more financial support to the sector.

Dominic’s recommendation #2 – To evidence how businesses will deliver social value priorities they will need to demonstrate written support from the voluntary and community sector.

Dominic’s Recommendation #3 – Agreement of Government and the voluntary and community sector to work together to look at mechanisms such as volunteer passports that make it easier for a volunteer to start volunteering and recognise other volunteering they have carried out.

Dominic’s Recommendation #4 – Empower and enhance local volunteering infrastructure to better able to mobilise, broker and support volunteering in all of its forms, both informal and formal in both crisis and non-crisis times.

Dominic’s Recommendation #5 – Develop nationally agreed guidelines for how volunteers can support emergencies

Dominic’s recommendation #6 – Produce a plan, led by the voluntary and community sector, with detailed recommendations to develop a coordinated business volunteering support

Dominic’s recommendation #7 – Support local volunteering infrastructure to pro-actively help VIOs to adapt to offer more informal volunteer roles

Dominic’s Recommendation #8 – National campaign to promote the role of Trustee along with a review and discussion of mechanisms to improve diversity of boards.

Dominic’s Recommendation #9 – Commitment by the government to collaborate and work with the voluntary and community sector to develop this

Constructive Criticism and Volunteering Context
Where I am critical of the report, in a constructive let’s-still-take-this-forward-but-in-a-different-way, is regarding the recommendations and suggestions for volunteering. Danny spends the first half of the report advocating strongly and convincingly for more local control and power but then when it comes to volunteering seems to be arguing for a government centralised database. I feel strongly that his arguments for local control should also apply to volunteering and that approach will reap greater benefits and impact.

Danny also discusses, in a high-level way, that the Big Society initiative was partly unsuccessful as it seemed that the government was asking the public to give up their time to replace the reduction in services resulting from austerity measures. I agree with this analysis, but he misses one of the main reasons why Big Society failed, and it had nothing to do with austerity. It was because Big Society was a government-led scheme.

Rightly or wrongly, if the government asks people to volunteer in non-crisis conditions, the public does not respond well to this request. Volunteering is and always should be free choice and when the government asks for people to volunteer the ask is, unfortunately, tainted and there is scepticism and mistrust. It does not matter which party is in power, if central or even local government tries to run and promote a volunteer scheme it is never does as well as when it is led by the voluntary and community sector.

My strong recommendation would be for the government to take the first part of Danny’s report and apply it to volunteering and for the government to support and invest in local areas to have more control and resources to develop volunteering.

Danny has a strong charity background and a good understanding of the sector, which is really helpful to this report, but he does not have expertise in volunteering. He was only given a month to put together this report and so it is understandable that he was not able to obtain all the necessary input to recommend a strategy to develop volunteering that will deliver the results he seeks.

It is important recognise that volunteering during a crisis is different to volunteering during non-crisis times. This does not mean we cannot take learning from this Covid-19 response, far from it, but that we need to temper our evaluation and recommendations with realities in non-crisis times. Danny does recognise in his report that the level of volunteering spirit cannot be maintained once the crisis is over but does not acknowledge the different ways people volunteer and so does not assess why this might impact his recommendations.

The response to Covid-19 demonstrated that there is a real willingness for large numbers of people to volunteer in an informal way and carry out task-based micro volunteering activities. This was not a surprise. Trends for volunteering in recent years have shown a very gradual decline in formal volunteering and an increase in formal volunteering. The Covid-19 response shows that there is likely untapped volunteer resource if VIOs can adapt their volunteering offer to harness those who want to volunteer in more informal, flexible ways.

The sector had already begun this work of adapting volunteering before Covid-19 entered our lives. My own organisations have been trying to help charities and VIOs to adapt to this new environment and at the beginning of the year we launched our Participaction campaign. It is not a straight-forward task as the trend of people wanting to volunteer more flexibly and informally is completely at odds with VIO organisations that are increasingly concerned, quite understandably, by safeguarding and related issues that if not followed could cause the entire work of the charity to cease. Nevertheless, this is the reality of the task and one we must address.

One final and perhaps pedantic constructive criticism [well, my twitter handle is @Capt_Pedantic], is that although the need for collaboration is repeated many times throughout the report, it is not a specific recommendation. I am sure Danny believes, based on his comments, that this need is implicit within the recommendations but for his recommendations to be successful the need for collaboration needs to be very explicit.

To take volunteering as an example, there is not just one thing that creates success. Mutual Aid Groups (MAGs) were and are amazing but the areas with greatest effectiveness were where when MAGs, community organisations and local authority schemes were able to join together. I have previously described my armada analogy to describe how the different sized boats of MAGs, charities, local authorities and central government aligned to meet the needs of the pandemic. It is not sufficient for these boats just to be going in the same direction, they need to be coordinated.

The Covid-19 response showed how much can be done and at considerable pace when we collaborate. A key component to building back better is for this collaboration to continue, to achieve that we need, and the government as well as local authorities need to commit to collaboration with our sector. This is essential.

Kruger Report
Kruger Recommendation 1:  New official measures to understand and track the economic and social contribution of civil society

YES, YES, YES. We need this. Like, today.

Danny makes it clear we do not have good or sufficient measures of the economic and social contribution made by civil society and argues in a compelling way that if we could better to do this, then greater value and importance would likely be given to the sector. I wholeheartedly agree with this and believe greater investment in the sector will come if we can more accurately understand its impact and contribution. All governments talk nicely about wanting to support our sector, but this often feels paternalistic and that we are a ‘nice to have’ sector rather than essential part of our society and economy.  

The report clearly demonstrates that Danny clearly understands charities and the sector. His report details how badly our already struggling sector has been hit by Covid-19. He uses evidence from the Charities Finance Group that estimates charities will lose 24% of income this year or £12.4 billion, with the highest losses to be felt by small charities. He states that the Treasury awarded a £750 million grant to the charity sector.

As welcome and grateful as the sector is, it is only 6% of what is needed. [Note: that is using US version of billion; do we actually use the UK version of billion as then it is only 0.006%? If anyone can educate me here, I will be grateful. My humble charities have never had to deal with billions, sadly.]

Danny correctly says, ‘if we are to maintain the social sector’s role in the ‘recovery’ phase, more [financial] support will be needed.’ Although his report offers some potential mechanisms to generate more income for the sector, these suggestions are, however, not ‘sure things’ and rely on a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’. Even if these suggestions were to be successful, they will not plug the £11.65 billion gap he identifies that the sector needs. The report does not state that the £750 million awarded has not yet been fully distributed to the sector. It is estimated that only 50% of this has been awarded in 5 months with NPC’s article ‘how much government funding has the charity sector really received’, offering good detail on this subject. This recent article in The Independent also highlights how difficult things are for the sector.

Dominic’s Recommendation #1
Government commits to helping to get all of the £750million already awarded out to charities and community organisations who need it as soon as possible.

(b) A commitment of more financial support to the sector.

Not in a paternalistic way, but because it makes economic sense to do so. The sector does not just employ nearly 1 million people(!) but the essential work the sector does supports people who would otherwise need support from the state which is unable to provide it. The sector brings in income from individuals, foundations, independent grant bodies and the private sector giving a huge return on investment by the government. As much as there is a positive multiplier to investing in the sector, there is a negative multiplier by not doing so. Not just economic, but a huge social impact that will cause suffering, further inequality and reduce social cohesion.

Kruger Recommendation 3. Negotiation with Big Tech firms to finance and co-design new, non-proprietary digital infrastructure for communities

Danny writes, ‘Big tech should be persuaded to provide, for free, the wiring of our social infrastructure. They could contribute expertise and resources to the challenges of data, referenced above; they could help with the digital innovations that are connecting volunteers and funders and charities …; and crucially they could support the mission to get the digitally excluded online. They should do this as benefactors, not suppliers; we need non-proprietary systems, with no access for the benefactors to people’s data.’

For many years I have been working with large corporations to encourage them to support communities through volunteering and related activities. I believe there is a real appetite for them to get more involved, but it needs to be well-thought through. If you can match the needs and benefits of communities with the community and social responsibility goals of businesses, which should be possible, then real progress can be made and with lots of win:win outcomes.

On technology, there are definitely opportunities, whether it is the ‘volunteer passport’ system that Danny proposes (see below) is very much up for debate. Nevertheless, if our sector can agree on a clear approach it will make it a lot easier to achieve this objective.

Social Value

Kruger Recommendation 4 – A new commitment to ‘social value’ commissioning, considering the whole of government accounts rather than a single budget

Danny accurately points out the procurement policies although well intentioned are part of the problem and, ‘this guidance quite properly seeks to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent efficiently, and without the opportunity for corruption. Sadly, these imperatives lead to two negative syndromes which afflict public sector commissioning: highly bureaucratic processes, and a tendency to award contracts to large corporate providers who do not necessarily offer the best work for the public but do offer the least risk for the commissioner. Lip service is paid to the need for a plural supply chain with opportunities for civil society organisations to deliver work, but in practice this rarely happens.’

He is 100% right on this. He is also absolutely correct that this situation needs to change. He does not offer huge detail on exactly how and I think because he knows a colleague, ‘Claire Dove, the Crown Representative for the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector is working with government to ensure better contracts through a new Social Value model.’ On same day as the release of Danny’s report, there was an announcement by government of ‘New measures to deliver value to society through public procurement’.

We are moving in the right direction, but I fear these new measures will not be enough.

I have a simple and easy recommendation for social value procurement that will make a huge difference at national and local government level.

Dominic’s recommendation #2 – To evidence how businesses will deliver social value priorities they will need to demonstrate written support from the voluntary and community sector.

This will pro-actively encourage businesses to contact, partner with and support voluntary and community sector organisations who are tackling social priorities. The knock-on effects of this one simple measure will be hugely impactful. Not only will contracts actually deliver on social value, but the process of working together will mean businesses will have better understanding of all sorts of social issues in the area they want to work in. It will lead to productive partnerships between the private sector and the voluntary and community sector. I like the fact that Danny very much sees businesses as part of the term civil society and this measure will really enable for civil society to expand through more involvement from businesses.

Danny writes, ‘The pandemic has shown that our communities have an enormous capacity for action: every neighbourhood has latent reserves of manpower, expertise, compassion and wisdom that can be deployed to improve local life for everyone.’

As already stated, I am more critical of the precise recommendations around volunteering. I think the overall intentions are good to make it easier for more people to contribute to society and communities and very much agree with the high-level principle.

As an ‘expert’ on volunteering, I feel I am in good and fair position to offer criticism, but I stress this is always meant to be constructive and even though the below may seem like I think Danny is wrong in a number of areas, these are mainly on the execution and suggestion implementations to reach his goals. Therefore, I do not think we should abandon or dismiss these suggestions but we take the higher-level objectives that we can agree on and say, let’s do it a different way.

[Note: always feel describing yourself as an expert makes you sound pompous and supercilious. Also, just using the word ‘supercilious’ makes you sound supercilious. I digress.]

Volunteer Passport System
Kruger Recommendation #8 A Volunteer Passport system to match the supply of and demand for volunteers, with options to: join a new National Volunteer Reserve to help with future emergencies and with environmental projects; deliver ongoing mutual aid to people in crisis; fulfil formal public service roles such as magistrates or charity trustees.

In more detail he states that the ‘Government should build on the voluntary spirit of the Covid-19 crisis to create a Volunteer Passport system. This should be a non-proprietary system held in trust for the public, not provided by a commercial operator. It should be overseen by an independent Board or Commission, headed by a respected civil society leader. It should be designed in public, with as much consultation and collaboration as possible, with a clear imperative to break the long tradition of central IT-led initiatives becoming clunky, bureaucratic failures.’ As stated above, Danny spends a lot of the report arguing for more local power and control and so it was disappointing to see this suggestion of a centralised government-controlled volunteer passport system.

I can understand why has come to this recommendation, but I know if he had been given more time to produce the report to discuss and consult on his suggestions that a different recommendation would have been made.

It should also be noted that the term ‘Volunteer Passport’ can and has been used to mean slightly different things in different settings. There are lots of areas that have or intending to implement a volunteer passport of some sort. For example, in Derbyshire there is a Volunteer Passport scheme that consists of standardised training, ‘a countywide short training course exploring key areas all volunteers need to be aware of.’ In other areas the volunteer passport schemes are more focused on vetting and speeding up the onboarding process of volunteers. In addition, some schemes will enable the volunteer to have a virtual passport where their volunteering history can be shown and recognised.

I’m currently working with some great VCS partners and the NHS in the 5 boroughs of North Central London (NCL) to look at ways to develop and integrate NHS/health volunteering. Earlier this month we looked at Volunteer Passports in more detail at the NCL Volunteering PLUS Network meeting. Helpforce, who ‘work with hospitals and healthcare workers to accelerate the growth and impact of volunteering in health’, kindly presented to help set the context and understanding of what is needed for a Volunteer Passport scheme. It was extremely helpful and the key points they raised to consider thinking about in relation to implementing a volunteer passport system were:

  • The problem is not technical or digital
  • The problem is systemic
  • The solution is strategic
  • The problem is about sharing information
  • The solution is a process not a thing

They stated that elements of a volunteer passport process include common approaches to validating identity, recognition of training, DBS and shared approach to risk management.

I explain this detail as I am not sure, from what he has written, Danny has fully understood what a Volunteer Passport scheme really is and what is entailed to achieve it. The way he described the scheme throughout the report feels very much like he is talking about a national government-run online volunteer brokerage scheme, with volunteer passporting being a part of this. He highlights the success of the NHS Volunteer Responder Scheme, run by the Royal Voluntary Service, as an example of why this suggestion should work.

The short time Danny has had to produce his report means that he has not understood the detail about these schemes and why they will not work, or at least not be as effective, in the way he has suggested. However, any schemes and mechanisms that make it easier for people to volunteer are definitely worth looking at.

Dominic’s Recommendation #3 – Agreement of Government and the voluntary and community sector to work together to look at mechanisms such as volunteer passports that make it easier for a volunteer to start volunteering and recognise other volunteering they have carried out.

I also need to explain more why a centralised government volunteer brokerage portal/database will not be as successful as Danny believes. He uses the success of the NHS Volunteer Responder Scheme as his main reason for arguing his case for developing further this type of approach. However, the Volunteer Responder Scheme has been successful as it has focused on a small number of fixed volunteer roles that can be carried out on an ad hoc basis. This suits the large amount of informal volunteering required during this crisis but will not be so suitable for the significant level of formal volunteering that is required to help the thousands of great charities and community organisation keep providing their services.

As great as the Volunteer Responder Scheme (VRS) has been, it did not provide all or the majority of help needed. It was, as it was always meant to be, a complimentary service to local support. Although it is complimentary, it is not joined up or integrated to local support despite many areas trying to make this happen. As just one example, I know a Volunteer Centre that asked for a relevant local message to be sent to the NHS VRS volunteers registered in their area but was told it could only go in their newsletter that would go to all the volunteers across the country. I write this not to criticise the scheme but to highlight why centralised schemes do not often work well in local environments.

Rather than a centralised government run volunteer brokerage service, why not enhance and empower local volunteering infrastructure which have been an essential part of the Covid-19 pandemic response. Not once in the report are Volunteer Centres mentioned. This is a serious omission.

Volunteer Centres have, in varying ways, been important players in the response, mostly behind the scenes, leading on recruiting to local volunteer response schemes, supporting and advising Mutual Aid Groups, helping to put together guidance to help volunteers carry out their work in a safe way (both physically and safeguarding) and communicating and engaging with volunteers throughout of ways to support the community. They have collaborated and worked in partnership with and supported local authorities, funders, charities, community groups and residents.

Dominic’s Recommendation #4 – Empower and enhance local volunteering infrastructure to better able to mobilise, broker and support volunteering in all of its forms, both informal and formal in both crisis and non-crisis times.

National Volunteer Reserve
As part of his recommendation #8 on developing a volunteer passport system, Danny writes, ‘Volunteer Passport holders should be invited to join a National Volunteer Reserve.’

‘The National Volunteer Reserve should be placed on a statutory footing, with an annual declaration by Government departments of the people and capabilities needed during ‘business as usual’ and in the event of an emergency. The VCS Emergency Partnership is designed to identify local and regional needs and this work should feed into the process. The relationship between the Reserve and Government should be overseen by a formal Whitehall system designed to ensure early warning and good management.’

This is another recommendation that sounds perfectly sensible but the actual practice of it is very different. I have first-hand knowledge and experience as the charities I run delivered the Nesta & DCMS funded CAMERA emergency volunteer programme based on the learning from Grenfell and the evacuation of the Chalcots Estates. What seemed a logical and helpful programme hit many hurdles to actually implement.

The difficulty here for any sort of emergency volunteer programme is that not all crises are going to be like Covid-19 or Grenfell. For Covid-19 support from people across the country, in every community, to help others was needed, but for an emergency like Grenfell it is commanded and controlled by the authorities and so local people will unlikely to be involved as they are not known or trusted. Our CAMERA Emergency Volunteer programme was designed to enable local people to be trained in emergency response to add value to official emergency management response. Although there was high-level buy in by local authorities, the emergency management teams themselves were resistant to involving volunteers, citing safeguarding and DBS requirements as one of them, e.g. we were told that all volunteers at an emergency rest centre had to have an enhanced DBS, even though this would not be possible as the role is ineligible.

I think there is definitely something that can be done around volunteer response but based on my experience a national centralised approach will not be very successful. As we experienced obstacles trying to implement this locally then perhaps a regional approach will be more appropriate? What would be very helpful would be to have some agreed guidelines across the country to involve volunteers in different types of emergency responses. Once we have that, then we can understand better whether a local, regional or national approach will be most appropriate.

Dominic’s Recommendation #5 – Develop nationally agreed guidelines for how volunteers can support emergencies

Older People
In his report Danny identifies older people are and will increasingly be an asset to harness to add more volunteer support to where it is needed. He writes, ’as more people live longer, older people will constitute the most extraordinary asset for our society. Andy Haldane predicts a doubling of surplus hours by 2050 due to people living healthier lives.’

He goes on to recommend that ‘public services should encourage this by helping people stepping down from professional roles – retiring from a career in education, the police, the NHS or local government, for instance – to take up voluntary responsibilities or formal statutory roles (see below, Public service).’

This idea was talked about a lot in our sector 2-3 years ago. Looking at it crudely, it could seem a case of just thinking we need more volunteers and because there are increasing numbers of older people supposedly who have free time so let’s try to get them to volunteer. This is, of course, wrong.

A lot of time and research has gone into this issue and I have found the Centre for Ageing Better very helpful in this regard. Two key points I have picked up from others are:

  • Older people do not have lots of ‘spare time’ and can be very busy with supporting their family in different ways, have other activities they want to do or do not want to do work-like activity now they are retired
  • The best way to get more older people to volunteer is to get younger people to volunteer as volunteering is quite a habitual activity, so if more younger people volunteer, there is an increased chance they will volunteer when they are older.

Business Volunteering
I absolutely agree with Danny’s desire to get more business volunteers involved in our communities to tackle social issues. I do not necessarily agree with his suggested method, but this is definitely an area to take forward. He wrote in his report, ‘there is a major role for business volunteers in the future model. The landscape of business and charity engagement is fragmented, and the Volunteer Passport could help align firms around meaningful local needs, driving up employee engagement and delivering great value for society.’

He is totally correct that the landscape of business and charity engagement is fragmented, but for reasons already explained, the Volunteer Passport/Brokerage system is not going to be the best way to do it. I helped set up and run a social enterprise whose entire social mission is to help businesses to support the community through volunteering. I also helped set up the London Employer Supported Volunteering Network to try and join up the fragmented work that takes place.

I believe there is a place for more automated self-service type models to connect businesses to volunteering opportunities, but this is only part of much larger area of development. If we are going to achieve a step change in activity, we need to organise the voluntary and community sector to pro-actively and very clearly design and promote specific ways businesses can support the community. At the moment, most activity in this area is carried out reactively, e.g. a business contacting a charity saying it has “30 volunteers available on the 15th, what can we do?” If we reverse this communication and promote different mechanisms of how businesses and their employees can help tackle social priority issues, we will lead to more joined up and impactful work. There will also need to be brokerage support to help businesses to match their community/social responsibility goals with needed volunteering opportunities.

Part of this work will also necessitate the voluntary and community sector adapting to offer more informal, flexible, ad hoc roles. Although some VIOs have started to do this, the vast majority of the sector is not yet ready and will need a lot of tailored support to enable this as each charity will be different.

Dominic’s recommendation #6 – Produce a plan, led by the voluntary and community sector, with detailed recommendations to develop a coordinated business volunteering support

Dominic’s recommendation #7 – Support local volunteering infrastructure to pro-actively help VIOs to adapt to offer more informal volunteer roles

Danny very correctly identifies that we need more and varied people to become Trustees. He states, ‘there is also a growing need for people to take formal positions as school governors and charity trustees. As with magistrates, we need more working-age trustees and governors, and more from less advantaged backgrounds. Government should consider a requirement for employers to give time off for trustee and governor work.’ I very much support and encourage any recommendation that helps achieve more people becoming Trustees. Trustees are such a vital but under-appreciated volunteer role and, in my opinion, are the best volunteer role there is.

Danny, also suggests and details why this a controversial suggestion, ‘it should also actively consider allowing – as a matter of course rather than by requesting an exemption from the general ban – charities to pay trustees for their time, if they wish to do so.’ I am not so sure about this, but I think it is worthy of discussion and review. If it helps more people who would find it difficult to give the time to become a trustee that also encourages more diversity of boards of trustees, then I think this could be an acceptable exception?

Dominic’s Recommendation #8 – National campaign to promote the role of Trustee along with a review and discussion of mechanisms to improve diversity of boards.

Young People
In his report, Danny suggests that developing more youth volunteering will help tackle the estimated 1 million unemployed young people that will arise due to Covid-19. He recommends a national programme of volunteering to be added or embedded into the government’s new Kickstart scheme which is designed to support the wages of 350,000 young people.

He suggests a programme called ‘Service Kickstart … within the Kickstart scheme designed to deploy up to 100,000 young people on a range of social and environmental projects. Young people would be paid via Kickstart to do this work, which could be full-time or (for those in training or employment) part-time. … Projects would be organised by civil society working with local authorities and businesses. They might include volunteering with local schools (helping younger children with mentoring, academic catch-up, sports or playtime); visiting hospitals and care homes; taking part in environmental clean-ups or biodiversity projects; restoring dilapidated youth clubs and community centres; retrofitting and insulating homes, schools and care homes; producing public art; gardening and landscaping public land; and more.’

Again, another sensible sounding suggestion but I think the detail and practicalities of this will mean it would not be very successful. I recognise this is just a high-level suggestion, of course, but my main concerns are:

  • The volunteering does not sound very much like volunteering as the individual is financially supported to do this and does does not have free choice to do this or not
  • Will young people want to join a national volunteering service? My feeling is that this will not be popular and there are other ways to be looked at to encourage young people to volunteer


Kruger Recommendation #17 Options to boost philanthropy, including civic crowdfunding, and social investment

I wholeheartedly support Danny’s recommendations around increasingly philanthropy and this should be an easy to do quick win. He very rightly states that ‘the wealthy could give more, and the very wealthy could give a lot more. Of those earning more than £250,000, two thirds make no donations to charity whatsoever. of giving.’

He suggests there should be a ‘campaign for the world’s super-rich to invest their philanthropic funds in London and benefit from the infrastructure of expertise and experience there. One way to attract this capital would be to devote a fraction of the UK’s international development budget to a match-fund scheme, multiplying the budget and tying philanthropy to our development strategy.’

He also suggests looking into new platforms and mechanisms for giving. He states, ‘already, people on low and average incomes give more as a proportion of their wealth than the rich, so there can be no criticism of people on ordinary incomes for their levels of giving. Nevertheless, the government should support new digital platforms to stimulate giving across the population. … Government should explore the option of a new national civic crowdfunding programme.’


Kruger Recommendation #18 A new £500m Community Recovery Fund, financed by the allocation of the dormant National Fund, for charities and community groups supporting the transition from the ‘response’ to the ‘recovery’ phase

Kruger’s suggested Community Recovery Fund (CRF) ‘would build on the £750 million in emergency funding provided during the ‘response’ phase of the crisis in April. It would help established organisations with a real contribution to make to the ‘recovery’ phase weather the storm (radically reduced fundraising and radically increased demand for their support); and it would help new and emerging organisations, including those mutual aid groups which wish to transition to ongoing charities and community businesses.’

He thinks the money from this could come from the unused National Fund. He states, ‘the CRF would ideally consist of £500 million of public money. This is the present value, or thereabouts, of the National Fund, … government should recognise that the National Fund is a charitable asset and that it should be applied to support civil society. …. Government should appeal to the trustees to hand over the National Fund to meet the exigency of national recovery.’

I have no idea how feasible this actually is, but it would be very helpful to the sector if it could.

Kruger Recommendation #19 Consult on the use of the £2bn+ which will shortly be available from new dormant assets: options include a new endowment, the Levelling Up Communities (LUC) Fund, for perpetual investment in long-term, transformational, community-led local projects in left-behind areas

Kruger recognises ‘our communities need a better model of social infrastructure and neighbourhood organisation than they had before the virus struck. This should include a far greater degree of local empowerment, which I address in the next section. To complement this transfer of power I propose a major new endowment – the Levelling Up Communities (LUC) Fund – to provide a permanent source of income for the UK’s communities.’

The money for this fund, Danny recommends, should come from the estimated £2billion ‘sitting in dormant insurance accounts and other financial products. Negotiations are underway to release this money in line with the scheme that so far liberated £1.2 billion from dormant bank accounts.’

Again, I do not know how feasible this actually is, but it could be very helpful for the sector.

This was actually meant to be a short blog post.

The length and detail of this response shows, despite criticisms outlined, that there is a lot to engage with in this report. I am currently part of a National Volunteering Cell Task & Finish Group and although there are different opinions, we agree that is wrong to go through the precise details of Danny’s recommendations but instead embrace the spirit and high-level intentions of the report and offer an open collaborative hand to discuss further with him and Government.

The big message I take away is that Kruger thinks the work of charities should be valued higher, the sector should have more money, there should be more and easier ways to volunteer, businesses are and should be increasingly part of civil society, social value procurement should be far more effective and we should value and put more importance on local power and spaces. That is great! Let’s run with this, work together and make this happen.

Volunteer Managers’ Cafe

I am pleased to report on the success of a new innovation for 2020, a Volunteer Managers’ Café, that started before Covid-19 and has carried on through the crisis and is becoming more important during the recovery phase and beyond.

At Volunteer Centre Camden we have a dedicated service to support best practice volunteer management called Best Practice Plus. Over the years we have developed and evolved workshops and forums for volunteer managers in Camden to help support their organisation’s volunteer programmes. These are well attended with the workshops being more formal with the focus on a specific topic for learning/development and the forums enable more discussion and peer networking.

We also offer one-to-one support with volunteer managers but this is a reactive service and relies on a volunteer manager to pick up the phone or email us with a particular issue they need help with. This service does not get so much use whereas the workshops and forums are far more popular.

I thought maybe this just reflects what volunteer managers want but I have always had a sneaky feeling there must be other issues going on that we were not being told about that they do not want to say. If we could get just more of their trust then we can be even more helpful to volunteer managers.

I was at a conference at the end of last year and as part of this we were split into breakout groups and asked to do an activity. I am always a bit cynical and sceptical of such activities, unless its purpose and end result are very clear and relevant, as they often they seem like time-fillers or just contrived ways to stop you falling asleep or doing work emails.

Despite my scepticism I participated in a positive spirit, as otherwise my scepticism could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and part of this session was to talk to the person next to me about something that I now forget. She was from a church and she told me that she found that she got people to open up about issues whilst they were doing gardening together. It was not that she pushed them to talk but whilst they were gardening together the person voluntarily opened up and she was able to listen and support.

A light bulb went on somewhere inside me. I realised that we needed to have our own version of the garden for volunteer managers. So, at the beginning of the year we launched our new Volunteer Managers’ Café.

It was a no-brainer to try as it does not cost anything. We simply advertised that our very excellent and nice Volunteer Management Best Practice Manager, Shafia Begam, would be in a particular coffee shop for a couple of hours on a certain day. She would bring her laptop and if no one turned up she could quietly get on with her work. Not a problem.

But volunteer managers did show up and it turns out they did want to talk.

Shafia reports, ‘Volunteer Manager Cafes work well in comparison to forum/workshops because the Volunteer Manager benefits from a 1-1 session in an informal setting. This allows for the exchange of honest communication in a safe space and imbues a feeling of ‘friendliness’ which isn’t easily replicable in other environments.’

We cannot divulge precise details of what volunteer managers have told us, but this process has given them an environment where they feel they can open up about problems they face that they could never do in a forum or workshop. It is obvious when you think about it. When we are in a setting with representatives from other organisations it is our duty to be an ambassador for our charity and we do not feel comfortable talking about the inner problems the organisation is facing.

It became apparent that both large and small organisations experience volunteer management issues that we were not hearing about before but we now do and so can give them tailored and discreet support.

Because the support takes place in a café, we can hold them all across the borough which means we can better engage volunteer managers. The Volunteer Managers’ Cafés, which now take place virtually, really help us to learn about issues volunteer managers face so we can help them.

They are free and effective. Every Chief Executive’s dream.

They have been a great innovation to our services and they are here to stay.

Covid-19 Volunteer Response: Boats Analogy

As I have been asked a few times, here is my boats analogy for explaining the volunteering response to Covid-19 in the UK. It helps explain the different speeds and approaches of the different participants in society and also how they have come together.

Mutual Aid Groups – Dinghies
Mutual Aid Groups (MAGs) and similar were extremely quick to organise a hyper-local response and action for those affected by Covid-19. Just like a dinghy, they are very agile, responsive but limited in capacity and suited to small tasks. Together with other local dinghies they have made an impressive fleet, working together to help people.

VCS Organisations – Yachts
Voluntary and Community Sector organisations were also quick to respond, but were more like yachts. Not quite as agile as a dinghy, these organisations had to quickly adjust to working during a pandemic, e.g. remote working options and whether to furlough staff, etc. Just like a yacht, they have managed to operate in choppy waters and volatile winds to regularly meet the needs of beneficiaries and service users in their community.

Local Authorities – Ferries
Although local authorities were extremely quick to recognise the situation and signal they were taking action, as large organisations they are just slower to change direction. Just like a ferry, they have large capacity and can sound their horn to warn people but it just takes time for a ferry to change direction. Most local authorities quickly announced a Covid-19 volunteer response scheme, which attracted a lot of local residents to sign up but they took time to become operational.

Government – Oil Tankers
Just like oil tankers, the Government needs to look far ahead and anticipate and plan what it needs to do. It knows it takes time to change direction and focus, so has to signal its intentions long before it can actually make the change. The government quickly announced the NHS Volunteer Responser scheme which drew in hundreds of thousands of interested volunteers but it took a long time before this was actually operational and volunteers could be activated to perform tasks.

Joining together to form a Covid-19 Armada
Not every area has been the same, but nevertheless we have seen a huge amount of the different types of response boats coming together to support those affected by Covid-19. At first we saw some of the VCS yachts working with and supporting MAGs, e.g. as a VCS infrastructure yacht we produced a Covid-19 Good Neighbour Guide to help MAG volunteers to be safe, both virus and safeguarding-wise.

Local authority ferries quickly engaged with VCS yachts and many also with the MAG dinghies. The government oil tankers are joining the party too, working primarily with the local authority ferries but also with VCS yachts linking with the national volunteer responder service. Together they have formed an effective Covid-19 Armada. An almost Dunkirk-like fleet, all working together to combat a deadly enemy.

Build Back Better – How to Keep the Armada Together
The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts and whichever type of boat we are crew member of, we can see that working together is far more effective. The barriers of ‘normal’ working life that impede this togetherness have been largely put to one side as people, organisations and institutions rally together to achieve things in days that would normally take months or may not ever happen. Shouldn’t it be like this all the time? Well, why not? I think we should aim to keep as much of this collaboration as we can.

Instead of the recovery phase, I heard someone refer to it as the ‘Build Back Better’ phase and that really struck a chord with me. Before Covid-19, people in our society and communities needed lots of help and support and this has not gone away in any measure, in fact, the situation has been made worse. Let’s keep this collaboration and the Armada together to tackle these serious social priorities.

How to do this is the hard part as although there is a lot of desire for this continued collaboration, it will be very easy to fall back into the old ways of doing things. We will drift back into largely separate less effective flotillas. Each of the type of boats needs to make a change.

The MAG dinghies need to establish new priorities and with the help and support of the VCS yachts and local authority ferries they can do this. The VCS yachts need to speed up their change of involving volunteers and adapt their offer to include more task-based, micro, ad hoc volunteering to keep the MAGs engaged. Local authority ferries need to keep their openness and willingness to collaborate with partners and not revert to command and control approaches. Government oil tankers need to keep talking, consulting and collaborating with the other types of boats to ensure we are all working towards a common goal.

Stop Calling it the ‘Third’ Sector

It is increasingly bothering me, to the point of driving me crazy, that people refer to the sector I work in as the ‘Third’ sector. It just seems wrong and symptomatic of a sector that is under-appreciated and undervalued. But we accept it, as that is what our sector does, we do not make a fuss, we get on with important things, like helping people and communities.

We are 20% way through the 21st century and yet still so many refer to it as the ‘third’ sector. The other sectors are referred to by an actual name, private and public sectors, but our sector does not even get a name, it is just the third sector. You know, the other one that is not the private or public sector. This label implies we are the bronze medal sector, not quite as important as the first two sectors.

I know many people in our sector do not mind it being called the ‘third’ sector and a few who even like it. There is even a magazine named it and a fair few organisations with it in their name, so why is it important? “Hello? we are in the middle of a Pandemic Dominic, surely there are more important things to talk about?

I agree it does not seem relevant, but our sector right now is critical to the Covid-19 response and in our normal humble way, we are thinking about services to people who need it, not sustainability. Who is going to fight on our behalf and champion this ‘third’ sector against all the other very loud voices demanding help?

The boss of Wetherspoons seems to have a louder voice than our third-place sector. Yet Wetherspoons is only a fraction of the size. Our ‘third’ sector that no one hears from, employing nearly 1 million people, is quietly contributing over £17 billion to the economy, representing almost 1% of GDP. This does not even account for the value of formal and informal volunteering, which is estimated to be around £40 billion. So, surely, we need to be heard from and perhaps not having a proper name negatively influences our ability to be recognised and valued? Without a name, we don’t have a proper identity.

Part of the problem, of course, is not having an easy alternative name that people like. If we had that, I am sure lots of people would prefer to use it. Here are some alternatives I have heard used:

  • Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) – this is the one I find myself using. It’s not catchy but I much prefer it. Sometimes it is expanded to include social enterprises, so VCSE sector. Even less catchy.
  • Civil Society – This is growing on me, but I still do not like it. I think perhaps it is because civil can mean courteous and polite, which as a sector we are with the people we support, but as a name in society it still will be seen as this humble nice sector that is not going to bother anyone so we can undervalue and under-appreciate it as they will not care, they are too nice. No, we need a stronger name.
  • Alpha Sector – I saw a presentation from someone who was so passionate about the influence and importance of our sector that it should be called ‘Alpha’. I like the passion behind this, but maybe, on a similar line, as ‘Delta’ can mean a change or difference then maybe the Delta Sector? We are the sector that makes a difference and change in peoples lives. I like this actually, but fear I am probably the only one. Not many people know the different definitions of Delta and as it also can mean the substitute for the letter D so the D sector could mean fourth place which is even worse than third sector.
  • NGO sector – I do not like this at all and certainly do not like the term Non-Governmental Organisation as it is defining something in the negative and not having its own identity. I like it as much as the idea of rebranding cats as Non-Dog Pets.
  • Charity sector – similar to the above but just referencing charities means it excludes other types of groups (e.g. unconstituted) and organisations (e.g. social enterprises) that operate in our sector.

Don’t you just hate people who say we need a solution but don’t actually offer one themselves? Yes, I am doing that now. However, in my defence, I did somewhat half-heartedly suggest ‘Delta’ Sector.

If someone does have a good name, I am fully ready to get behind you. But in the meantime, can we at least stop calling it the third sector?

Trustee – Probably the best volunteer role there is

More people should be trustees. They really should.

It is often forgotten as a volunteer role, but it is absolutely one of the best ways to volunteer your skills and experience and make a real significant contribution to a charity.

This truly fantastic volunteer role suffers, in my view, due its name. The word ‘trustee’ sounds like a term from the nineteenth century, conjuring visions of old men sitting in a smoke-filled board room drinking brandy. The reality is very different … I’ve definitely not had any brandy! Trustees should and do come from all walks of life and it is a dynamic, diverse and rewarding position.

Trustees work as a team utilising their individual and collective skills and experience to direct and make key decisions for an organisation. They take legal responsibility for the charity and work with, challenge and support the Chief Executive to ensure the charity is being well run and delivering its objectives.

As I run a Volunteer Centre it will be no surprise that I volunteer myself and the formal volunteer work I do is through being a Trustee as it is a way to use my skills and experience to support a charity that fits with my work and time commitments. I am currently a proud Trustee of 3 great but different charities: Adventure Ashram, Camden Giving and London Plus.

Although it is arguably the best, do not think it is the easiest volunteer role, far from it. The last 5 years have been extremely challenging for most charities, particularly those with a turnover of under £1 million. Years of austerity have meant increased competition for reduced available funding. To survive, let alone be sustainable, charities have needed to and still are adapting to a new economic environment.

Devising, evaluating and evolving innovative strategies for a charity are the responsibility of the Trustees. With these challenges often come opportunities and a well functioning board of Trustees will work together to identify and prioritise the opportunities and objectives for the organisation.

If that sounds interesting to you, then why not become a Trustee? The meetings are usually just after work and often are between 4-6 face to face meetings per year.

There are a number of ways to find trustee opportunities:

  1. Contact your local Volunteer Centre, there is often one for your local authority area or region
  2. Reach Volunteering – https://reachvolunteering.org.uk/
  3. Do-It www.do-it.org
  4. Charity Jobs – https://www.charityjob.co.uk/volunteer-jobs?keywords=Trustee
  5. Team London (London only) – https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/volunteering/search/
  6. Direct Contact – find a charity you like and contact them directly to ask if they are looking for Trustees. The Chief Executive is a good place to start and if you can explain briefly what skills/experience you have to offer along with your CV it will help.
  7. Other options via Trustees Week website (well worth a look): http://trusteesweek.org/find/

Other useful Trustee Information:

Why do so many misunderstand DBS?

The Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) check, formerly Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), is widely used throughout the voluntary and community sector to involve volunteers but I never cease to be surprised at how often it is misused, either through misunderstanding or deliberately.

At the Hammersmith & Fulham Volunteer Centre, we are an authorised umbrella DBS checking service and also provide advice and support to volunteer involving organisations around DBS. We work with DBS needs and questions every day.

I was in a meeting the other day with a range of organisations and stakeholders who provide support and education services to children. The topic of DBS came up and the over-cautious nature of lots of organisations who require unnecessary DBS checks. One person in the meeting correctly said that is actually unlawful to ask for a DBS when it is not required as you are breaking the person’s human rights. Another person then said yes but that they always ask for it for any volunteer role. Even though it’s unlawful? Asked the first person. Yes, absolutely.

This happens a lot. I mean, really a lot. I should not be shocked by this, but I was still was. Not by the point of view, as I’ve heard it often, but the audacity and brazenness of saying it so openly to a large number of other professionals.

Working in our sector, I have heard so many excuses and reasons about why an organisation is requesting a DBS when actually they should not do so. A trend I’ve experienced is that the larger the organisation the more likely it is ask for unnecessary DBS checks. This is probably explained by the more litigious-aware these larger organisations are.

The normal expectation is that a larger organisation should better understand DBS requirements, but many do not and offer up ripostes like the following to counter us saying a DBS is not necessary:

  • “It’s our policy that DBS are needed” – even though it’s unlawful and you are breaking someone’s human rights? Yes, apparently. Sorry to break it to you, but the law trumps your policies.
  • “Our insurance says we need it” – when people say this they expect an end to the discussion and so are surprised when we challenge this. Often insurances do not actually require it, but the person whose in charge of arranging insurance for the organisation requires it. This is fine if they know when a DBS is needed but often they do not and take a zero risk approach. You can understand this, but the zero risk approach is against DBS eligibility rules.

  • “If there is even a potential that a person might be left alone with a child or vulnerable person, then we cannot take that risk” – There is a lot of hysteria around DBS and people mistakenly believe if you spend or could possibly spend 1 second alone with a child or vulnerable person you need a DBS. I recently received an email from a large organisation that said, ‘We will not allow anyone who is not DBS checked have any interaction with members of the public in any circumstances.’ This is simply wrong. You need to take a practical approach, rather than an unlawful overkill DBS approach. If I was alone at a bus stop on a quiet street with a child or vulnerable adult, would I need a DBS. No, of course not.

So why do we have this problem? Yes, DBS is a little complicated and open to interpretation but at the root of the issue is organisations and people covering their bottoms … or risk management in polite terms. Requiring DBS checks means an organisation reduces its risk if one of its staff or volunteers violates or abuses a vulnerable person. When I say reduces the risk, the main risk concerned is how much they might be sued and their reputational risk. If they can say they carried out all the good practice to reduce the risk of it happening then they can reduce the damage as if they do not, it could be game over for that charity.

So, does a DBS actually reduce the risk of something actually happening? Probably a little, if you believe people who offend are likely to offend again. Reoffending rates are always open to interpretation but overall government reoffending rates are at about 30%.

But here are some things to consider about DBS checks and what they actually give you or rather do not give you:

  • Just because someone has a clear DBS does not mean they are not a risk, they could have done criminal acts but never got caught. To give an extreme example, Jimmy Saville would have got a clear DBS check.
  • A DBS check is only good at the point the check was taken. Someone could have done something afterwards. So how often do you check? There is no legal requirement but good practice suggests every 3 years. DBS checks do not have an expiry date.

  • If someone does not have a clear DBS check, then you cannot discriminate because of a conviction or other information revealed. Check here for government guidance and a sample policy on recruiting ex-offenders

At the bottom of this article I have given information and links for the three levels of DBS checks and where to check for eligibility.

North Yorkshire Council have a great new emergency volunteer project (Ready for Anything), funded by Nesta and DCMS, that deals very well with DBS issues. As you might imagine, Emergency Management teams are ‘super’ risk averse as they will not do anything that risks extra trauma for those affected by an emergency. They are great teams that really do fantastic work and I have been super impressed with what they do as we deliver our own emergency volunteer programme CAMERA. However, my experience is that these emergency management teams do not know DBS rules well so they take the zero/minimum risk option and say DBS must be required for all volunteers, even if it is not necessary.

Well not so in North Yorkshire! They have spent a lot of time investigating and clarifying the need for DBS and insurance arrangements. The emergency volunteers will be involved in ancillary roles, e.g. in a rest centre, making cups of tea, directing people, giving out information, sorting out donations and helping to tidy up. They will never be alone with anyone and always supervised by a manager who is trained and DBS checked. Therefore, no DBS is required and so will enable more local people to be involved in supporting when an emergency takes place. This approach is how it should be. They are taking a very realistic and pragmatic approach to managing the risk.

If you are not sure about DBS then check the government guidance or speak to an authorised DBS umbrella body. The Hammersmith & Fulham Volunteer Centre is a DBS umbrella body and can offer DBS help and advice for volunteers, VIOs and employers.

Also be aware that the DBS service will likely change at some point after it lost its appeal in January 2019, where the Supreme Court ruled the service breached human rights. See BBC article here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47054647

The three types of DBS check:

Basic DBS

This check will only show convictions that are not ‘spent’, for example some types of caution will disappear after 3 months.

Basic DBS checks can be used for any position or purpose, however certain roles may require a higher level of check. Basic DBS checks cost £25 for all applicants including volunteers and can be carried out by the person/applicant here (https://www.gov.uk/request-copy-criminal-record).

For anything above a basic check, there are strict eligibility criteria and the government provides guidance and eligibility checker tool here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/dbs-eligibility-guidance


This check shows spent and unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings.

This check needs to be carried out by the volunteer involving organisation (VIO) (or through a DBS umbrella body like the Hammersmith and Fulham Volunteer Centre) and cannot be carried out by the volunteer themselves.

There is no cost to the volunteer for having this check carried out, but the VIO will need to pay for the administration of this check.


This shows the same as a standard check plus any information held by local police that’s considered relevant to the role.

In rare occasions, there is also an enhanced check with a check of the barred lists, which shows the same as an enhanced check plus whether the applicant is on the adults’ barred list, children’s barred list or both. This article helps for when a barred lists check is required: https://www.ucheck.co.uk/the-dbs-barred-lists-when-to-do-a-check/

This check needs to be carried out by the volunteer involving organisation (VIO) (or through a DBS umbrella body like HFVC) and cannot be carried out by the volunteer themselves.

There is no cost to the volunteer for having this check carried out, but the VIO will need to pay for the administration of this check.