The world of volunteering, as we know it, is changing. Everywhere in the world, people are helping one another to cope with the pandemic by offering support to those who are most at risk from COVID-19.
At the same time, many people who used to volunteer may not be able to if they are being advised to stay at home. Some volunteering roles are unable to be carried out, while others increase in demand. Anecdotal evidence suggests, for example, that there is a growing demand for volunteers in foods banks. More than 700 mutual aid groups have been set up that organise themselves locally to help people who need support.
As the response to the pandemic changes, so will volunteering. Firstly, in terms of recruitment, how does a top-down approach to encouraging volunteering affect volunteering for other organisations? For example, the NHS Volunteer Responder Scheme, launched by the government in March 2020, received around 750,00 applications from would be volunteers, vastly exceeding the initial target of 250,000. Were these mostly people who had never volunteered before and so this scheme activated non-volunteers? Or did it divert existing volunteers away from voluntary organisations? It will be interesting to see what the long-term effects of such state-led campaigns of volunteering will be. Will they increase the engagement in volunteering in general, have no effect, or maybe even discourage from future volunteering?
Secondly, many groups, organisations, and the NHS Volunteer Responders Scheme are receiving a large volume of enquiries from prospective volunteers and may not be able to meet this demand. The NHS Volunteer Responders Scheme received a large volume of enquiries from prospective volunteers but at the time of writing this blog, only 100,000 volunteering tasks have been allocated and the majority of those who have been volunteered are yet to be called to action, causing some frustration. Another 150,00 of would be volunteers did not pass the initial vetting process and were rejected. To what extent experiences like these will discourage people from volunteering in future?
Thirdly, the lockdown and social distancing measures introduced during pandemic might accelerate ’new‘ ways of getting involved. Before the pandemic, the NCVOs Time Well Spent Survey found that only 6% of all volunteers volunteered exclusively online, but we are now living in times when 8 in 10 adults (80%) in Great Britain had either not left their home or only left for the permitted reasons in the past seven days. Therefore charities, local authorities and the government are creating new ways for people to volunteer remotely using digital technologies. Check in and chat volunteering is one example, which provides short-term telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness due to self-isolation. It will be interesting to see whether these new ways of volunteering become increasingly common and how they affect levels of volunteering and volunteer management.
At this moment of time, these issues raise several important questions to which we yet to have to find the answers for. As one of the three co-editors of the Voluntary Sector Review, I hope that our journal will be at the centre of the debates about the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on volunteering in the UK and abroad.
Daiga Kamerāde is a Reader in Work and Well-being at the University of Salford, and co-editor of Voluntary Sector Review.
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