The Voluntary and the Unvoluntary Sectors
Many people think in unfortunately simple categories eg
|Volunteers are kind-hearted, simple-minded amateurs trying in their bumbling way to do
|Professionals and Officials are our elders and betters who are clever,
committed and competent and who know what we really need.|
If a professional is someone who is paid for what he does then someone who
does not get paid is unprofessional. But there is the implication that
unprofessional also means voluntary and amateur and
somehow second rate. Amateur volunteers may be well intentioned and
enthusiastic but they do not do things as well as the full-time, salaried, official
Whilst there may be some grain of truth in this simple minded point of view, there is
no inevitability about it. This paper suggests that in many cases the voluntary
(community-led) sector may be better able to manage some kinds of task than the
Consider the situations set out in the following table:
The Voluntary Sector
The Unvoluntary Sectors
Paid in cash
|Level of technical competence
|Level of commitment
|Level of enthusiasm
|Level of enjoyment
|Influence on bosses
* Many people in the voluntary sector are professionals who freely
contribute their knowledge and skills to a worthwhile cause. The voluntary sector also has
the option of buying in expertise when it is not available on a voluntary
** See below for the Peter Principles
In the Private Sector (factories and businesses) and in the Public Sector (Government
Offices) people are paid money to work ie they do unvoluntary work. In many cases people
enjoy what they are doing (especially the senior staff and bosses who are paid very well)
and they do it very well: but in many cases (especially amongst the lower ranks and in
middle management) the work is repetitive, meaningless, depressing and causes stress.
There has been a lot of research into how different kinds of organisations are set up
and managed. This research has shown that many organisations are inefficient and wasteful.
Two of the Peter Principles1 capture the flavour of what
often goes wrong:
|People are promoted to their point of incompetence, and thus,|
|Work expands to fill the time available|
If you do a job well you are promoted to a higher job; do that well and you are
promoted again; do that badly and you are stuck there. So people are operating at their
first level of incompetence and this leads to a lack of enjoyment, commitment and
enthusiasm. They become embittered, cynical and possibly even spiteful. Such individuals
are soon side lined the real work is given to more able people. The unvolunteers
need the money so they cannot resign. They stretch out the small tasks for which they
still have responsibility in a desperate attempt to justify their existence. They keep
their seat warm by tying and untying knots in red tape, shuffling papers, and by attending
endless rounds of unproductive meetings.
That is a deliberately bleak picture of the hell into which the wage slave to
unvolunteerism might descend. In these changing times of downsizing and
best value is it becoming more or less common?
The reward for work in the voluntary sector is not cash. People are not wage slaves. If
they do not like what is going on they can easily walk away. If the organisation is not
achieving its goals, or if it induces stress or suffering through bad management, then
people have two options:
|withdraw their time and effort and apply it somewhere else|
|raise their concerns with the membership of the organisation and thus make changes|
The last point is important. Voluntary Organisations (and this includes most
Community-led Organisations) are owned and driven by their membership. They are democratic
to the extent of having AGMs at which the Management Committee (the bosses)
are elected. The people, the workers, the employees
decide what the organisation does and how it does it.
In the modern world there is the feeling that people who work for anything other than
money are soft in the head. But that is another example of thinking in simple categories.
There are many possible reasons for getting involved in the voluntary sector, especially
when it involves people making things happen in their own community.
People might not be happy about how the experts are dealing with various
aspects of the economy, the environment or social issues. When they dig into these
problems local people discover that the experts often have their hands tied:
|'Experts' are obliged to deal with generalities and statistics which are rarely adequate
for dealing with particular situations. Centralised experts do not have the time or energy
to fine tune their policies OK the village can have new street lights or traffic
calming measures - but where exactly should they be located?|
|The Central Officials have to do what their bosses tell them and the bosses in turn are
influenced by the fads and fashions of central government in Edinburgh, London or
Brussels. Elected politicians tend to work towards short term, showy projects and longer
term, less obvious projects are thus forgotten.|
If local people want to work towards long term goals and to give attention to detail
then they have to take matters into their own hands. Voluntary involvement in
community-led organisations is a readily available vehicle for this.
Many people get involved in the voluntary sector for reasons which are not so practical
as those mentioned above. It is not easy to put a label on these reasons without sounding
impractical and sentimental (wet) so here they are without labels:
To help the community to
|take control of itself and be self reliant so that it is obligated to no one.|
|help itself so that it is not a basket case looking for charity
|DIY rather than having others do it for us|
|behave as a responsible adult rather than as a dependent child|
To help yourself through
The Voluntary and
the Community-led Sectors
Over 26,000 Scottish charities are recognised by the Inland Revenue. Between them they
have an income of over £2 billion pounds each year and employ over 51,000 people2. Not all voluntary sector organisation are official
charities so the real numbers, income and level of employment will in fact be much
higher. More than 1000 new charities are formed in Scotland every year thats
roughly four in every working day of every week. These voluntary organisations can be
divided into those which serve a community of interest and those that serve a community
The first group tends to be national in scope and the organisations tend to have their
offices in the big cities. Many have a special purpose or interest (eg various
environmental or health groups) whilst others give information, training and support to
other voluntary and/or community-based organisations.
The second group tends to have a local focus and the organisations have their base in
the areas which they directly serve. The 14 Community-led groups in Aberdeenshire fall
into this category. Most of these began life as part of the then Grampian Regions
Villages in Control project. They have recently been talking to each other and are forming
a Forum through which
the paid staff is able to exchange information, ideas and experience and a Federation
through which the Chairpersons (who are volunteers) can network with each other.
The two types of groups represent communities (diffuse communities of
interest and concentrated communities of location) and their voices together are making
their mark in the new Scottish democracy.
The Voluntary Sector is called the Third Sector the first two sectors being the
Private Sector (manufacturing and business) and Public (or State) Sector (local, national,
UK and European government)3.
What are the different sectors good for? We live in changing times. The Voluntary
Sector has for some time been reduced to little more than kind-hearted old dears in
twin-sets giving alms to the poor. This involved giving the poor person a fish rather than
teaching him how to fish. The task now is to enable the communities (of interest as well
as of location) to be fishermen. But what will they be catching in their nets?
Are there new tasks and occupations waiting to be discovered or will the Third Sector
have to steal jobs from the First and Second sectors by demonstrating greater efficiency,
productivity and contextual relevance?
We live in changing times. The future is in our hands. Individuals driven by the
practical or non-practical reasons outlined above have space to make a difference. AND
they are not alone. There are many willing hands and hearts in the voluntary and
community-led sector. With shared dreams and caring management harnessing the enthusiasm
and commitment of those who are who are clever and competent, nothing is impossible.
- Peters T J & Waterman R H (1983) In Search of Excellence:
Lessons from Americas best run Companies; Free Press
- SCVO (1998) SCVOs Guide to Constitutions and Charitable
Status in Scotland; ISBN 1 870904 54 0
- In Lesotho the three sectors are thought to be Church, State
and Community! What happened to the Church of Scotland?
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