At EU level, volunteering is increasingly recognised as an exceptional catalyst for active citizenship, social cohesion and development, with a remarkable economic relevance.
At present, an estimated 92 to 95 million adult Europeans actively engage in volunteering activities for an aggregate contribution to the GDP of Member States varying between 0.5 to 5% (European Commission-DG EAC, 2010.
Volunteering in the European Union(VEU). Final report). In addition, volunteering is a significantly relevant platform for informal and non-formal learning of various groups of society, thanks to its inherent mechanisms for peer-to-peer collaboration and knowledge sharing. At the same time, volunteering is a unique platform for intergenerational learning, as it promotes mutual understanding and learning between elderly and youth. Ultimately, volunteering triggers positive spill-over in European economy and society as a unique mechanism for greater social inclusion not only for the beneficiaries of volunteering services but also for the volunteers.
This is even more important when volunteering is considered as a pivot for intergenerational linkages, as a means to promote social inclusion of an ageing population and active citizenship of the young part of society.
Yet, many capacity constraints of “Volunteering Agents” (VA) undermine the efficacy and impact of volunteering as a whole. In the context of REVEAL, “Volunteering Agent” is a functional definition: VA is anyone at any title involved in organising, managing, administering and implementing volunteering activities which require planning, management, communication and human relationship skills, regardless of their actual function, role and position in the volunteering organisation. Specifically, volunteering organisations seldom have the right set of managerial skills to maximize the impact of their activities.
This low organisational capacity has manifold negative implications for volunteering as a whole, producing the following shortcomings:
1) no maximised resources due to improper planning and management
2) inevitably, undermined -or in any case not maximised- impact on beneficiaries of volunteering activities
3) as a consequence, jeopardised sustainability of volunteering activities and organisations
4) dispersions of (human) resources and low retention.
In addition, the lack of proper managerial capacity, coupled with the high fragmentation of the support mechanisms to volunteering, has the potential of weakening volunteering as a whole and ultimately alienating motivated operators.
REVEAL is designed to respond to those specific capacity needs of the VAs by identifying the typical functional profile of those engaged in volunteering, defining the necessary set of skills and developing innovative self assessment tools and training courses to strengthen the capacity of VAs throughout Europe. In so doing, REVEAL not only aims to improving adult learning through the development of innovative training courses, but also, and most importantly, develops practical application and testing of methods for valuing knowledge and competencies acquired through volunteering as an informal and non-formal learning (specific objective of Grundtvig2011).
The issue of organisational and managerial capacity of VAs has been selected over other important issues in the area of adult learning and volunteering for many reasons.
First and foremost, the increasing professionalism of volunteering requires VAs to be proficient in the most appropriate and common management skills. This is highlighted as a key shortcoming of volunteering in the EC-DG EAC, 2010, Volunteering in the EU (VEU), Final Report, p.230: “Professionalisation also means that volunteers are confronted with increasingly demanding tasks that require specific competences and skills”.
Second, the fact that volunteering is serving a good cause and a higher public good does not exempt volunteering organisations from good managerial practices and accountability to stakeholders.
Third, the gradual scarcity of resources due to fragmentation of the volunteering environment and increasing cuts to contributions from both public and private sectors calls for efficiency gains that can be achieved only through increased capacity of volunteering agents.
Fourth, the report EC-DG EAC, 2010, Volunteering in the EU (VEU) highlights how volunteers carry out administrative and managerial tasks regardless of the sector of activity and, most importantly, their specific background (p. 89, the main activities carried out by volunteers are: Administration and support; Help/work with people; Prepare/support voluntary activities; Management/ coordination; Campaigning/lobbying; Organise events). This makes self evident the need to “provide adequate training to volunteers” (VEU report, recommendation 5.3.3 page 269) and VAs so as to empower them to properly carry out their activities.
REVEAL is the result of consolidated collaboration among the partners: CSV and IVR have a consolidated cooperation in activities relating to research on volunteering. CSV and IDP worked together for years in the definition of training courses for volunteers. IDP and IWS have a solid cooperation in the definition of training content and methodologies for adult learners including a current LLP project, EKWALS. CSV has previous direct contacts with HELP, ProVobis and Espiral.