Wednesday, 5 December 2012

It’s still voluntary; not free

Written by Rachel Quinn, Chief Executive, One East Midlands

Two years ago I published a blog entitled ‘It’s voluntary, not free!’ 

In recent months I have been reminded that issues have changed very little and that members have valued my definition of ‘voluntary sector’ in making local challenge. We are therefore republishing this blog for all to use….

I have continued to be disappointed, whilst sitting in a variety of public arenas, still listening to embedded  misunderstandings of the meaning of ‘voluntary sector’ and volunteering.

I thought it would be helpful to share my own interpretation for all to use – I’m sure there are others out there but here goes….

The crux of the matter is ‘It’s all about governance!’

Governance in the private sector is motivated by the generation of wealth and profit through the sale of goods and services. Legal structures therefore enable trading to take place, governed by business directors and/or executive staffing with responsibility for ensuring that the business remains profitable and solvent. These roles are remunerated and often directly linked to the financial success of the business.

The public sector is often referred to as the ‘statutory sector’ as it is created out of statute. The public sector role is defined by government to deliver public services that meet the needs of the population at the time. From a governance perspective this requires them to be publicly accountable by direct linkage to democratically elected members at either local or national level (or in the case of linked agencies or QUANGOs they are accountable to these democratic structures). The public sector is borne from our democratic structure and therefore governed and responsible to it.

So where does the voluntary sector sit…

The voluntary sector is borne out of passion, commitment and the autonomy of people to make a positive change or address a problem in society. The governance of the sector is therefore undertaken by volunteers (often trustees) who undertake their role, not for financial reward or out of public duty but to achieve positive impact for their beneficiaries. How the voluntary governors choose to achieve their goals is very much up to them – and can often involve (and indeed require) the generation of income and employment of paid staff. As a result this means that voluntary organisations are simply steered not by the motivation of financial reward or out of a public duty but merely a drive to make a change for the better – they are not free and never will be.

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