Volunteering, schmolunteering – does the word volunteering really matter?

Leonie Lewis, JVN Director

It’s been a busy few weeks for volunteering.  From the Jubilee to the Olympics it seems everyone is asking for volunteers – including us! But big events aside, the volunteering sector is under strain. Volunteering England has just reported that local government funding for Volunteer Centres  has dropped by 12% despite a big rise in demand for services, bearing out our previous blog: Big Society seems to be more about commmunity groups and individuals delivering services than supporting charitable organisations.

NAVCA – who support local charities, voluntary organisations and community groups – recently did a fantastic analysis of the changing volunteering landscape.  The full paper looks at pretty much everything volunteering from the Government Work Programme to the National Citizens Service for 16-year olds via Employee volunteering and volunteering for Orange RockCorps.

So I was interested to see a blog  taking a bit of an issue(!) with NAVCA’s allegedly relaxed approach to what volunteering actually is,  specifically: “Our default response to new “volunteering” initiatives will not be semantic debate about whether they are volunteering or not”.  The blogger John wrote:

Social action and volunteering aren’t interchangeable terms. Social action, to me, is a specific, often organic, way of getting involved without the structural, processed support of organisations. I do not see it is as volunteering. And I rather think most social activists do not see themselves as volunteers.

We’ve written about this before, noting that our French volunteering colleagues were very precise separating out an social activism – militantisme – from volunteering – bénévolat. What we didn’t mention is that volunteering is also itself separated out between bénévoles and volontaires – the first entirely unpaid on an ongoing basis, and the latter with expenses paid, often full time and under a contract. Vive La France indeed!!

Back at the i-volunteer blog,  I’m proud to say that the English are proving that we’re also up for a spirited debate about the importance of definitions!  The following comments are absolutely fascinating with NAVCA appearing below the line to weigh in. Read it all.

In classic Jewish style (two Jews, at least three opinions), we  certainly don’t have the answer to the definition(s). Far greater minds than us have attempted to do it before, the answer being –  it’s very complicated but all good.  What we can say is that JVN exists to find people – volunteers, activists, whatever you want to call them! – for not-for-profit organisations making a positive change in the world. And you can’t argue with that!


Categories: Leonie's View, Volunteering, Volunteering Issues


Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.


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