Volunteer force reports growth in numbers

By Simon Rocker, July 9, 2009

The Jewish Volunteering Network has more than tripled the number of people on its books in under a year, the organisation’s first conference was told on Monday.

Inquiries from prospective volunteers have risen to more than 1,000 from 300 last September, while more than 130 organisations have registered with it.

Set up three years ago as an “appropriate response to a real need”, JVN was saluted by keynote speaker Professor Margaret Harris, an expert on voluntary organisations in the UK.

It made sense, she said, to “offer a one-stop shop so that Jewish people who are interested in volunteering can be offered a good range of possible positions”.

Managing volunteers could be more challenging for organisations than getting the most out of paid staff, she pointed out.

If volunteers were ill-matched to tasks and organisations, they might walk away. “Accountants who are seeking volunteer opportunities to broaden their interests beyond their professional lives are unlikely to enjoy being treasurers on volunteer boards,” she explained.

“Retired people yearning for a shape to their week and restoration of their self-respect should probably not be stuffing envelopes on an occasional basis in the corner of a cramped synagogue office.”

Professor Harris saw JVN as much more than a “match-making service”. Not only could it encourage organisations to think about new ways to involve volunteers, but in the future, “maybe it will also help to enrich the civil society of Britain as a whole by encouraging Jews to volunteer beyond the communal comfort zone and across religious and ethnic boundaries”.

Another possibility was attracting volunteers from other religious and ethnic groups.

Last updated: 4:17pm, July 9 2009