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The Competitive Edge: Tension between Volunteer Centers and Volunteer Resources Managers and How to Change It

Most Volunteer Centers have no independent purpose apart from the volunteer community they serve. So it would seem vital for a Volunteer Center to develop strong, mutually-supportive relationships with any organization committed to engaging or deploying volunteers of any kind. Those working in the trenches every day with volunteers ought to see their Volunteer Center as an ally and advocate.

Unfortunately, we have all too often seen communities where there is more tension than harmony among these partners, particularly when it comes to Volunteer Centers and volunteer resources managers. What interferes with a strong alliance is competition. Rather than each player starting from strength and then cooperating to become even stronger, Volunteer Centers are often perceived as fighting for their niche “over” instead of “next to” the organizations they serve.

What is going on? In this Points of View, Susan J. Ellis and Rob Jackson examine some of the factors that drive a wedge between sectors of the volunteer community. They call for a “reversal of the process” and help define what a “great Volunteer Center” should look like. 

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Chris Reed / St John Ambulance / London

As someone who has cut their teeth in both a Volunteer Centre, as a project worker and a CEO and now in a national charity as Head of Volunteering I can understand and associate with the tensions you describe. When in the VC I was often frustrated with large national charities who, while operating in what we saw as 'our patch' would not engage with us. We were often desperate to find ways to help members of the local community to volunteer with the large household name charities.

Now, having sat on the other side of the fence for a number of years I understand why those charities didn't engage. The desire not to have to work with over 200 different independent organisations, the variations in quality and consistency are just some of the problems we face on the charity side.

The focus of any organisation, such as VCs, on geographical boundaries is also I would argue a key problem. Volunteers want to get involved in volunteering where it's convienient to them, charities want to make that as easy as possible and all too often VCs are unfortunately seen as a barrier to that involvement (often when they shouldn't be as many are extremely helpful and accomodating). Nevertheless projects are often funded in specific localities for specific people something which only makes this situation worse.

Unfortunately I'm not about to offer a range of answers, but I would like to say thank you to Rob and Susan for this very interesting debate.

Susan J, Ellis

You're welcome and thank you, Chris!

Rob and I would love to hear from other readers of this issue as well, since this is a conversation that deserves many perspectives.