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Give and Take: Volunteering time does cost money

We are often told that time is money, yet it is all too easy to overlook the value of time to an organisation.

Charities are adept at squeezing a lot out of very little – finding ways to make money go further, spending strategically in a way that leads to significant impact. But are people always clear about the value of the time they spend? From my own experience I know that we often overlook the cost of in-house staff time. My organisation (CFDG) has supported its members in considering and apportioning costs – but not everyone universally recognises staff time as a cost in specific events.

It may sound obvious but bear with me – one of my previous employers (from the private sector) did not, for many years, recognise the time of staff in pursuing business, attending events, manning stands and so on as a cost to the business. But that time had both a direct cost and an opportunity cost.

Do we always ask ourselves “could we be doing something more valuable to the organisation with the time?” I could take this thought in many directions but I will ponder just a few.

Volunteering – is that free? No, I would argue there is a cost to volunteering. It is important not to overlook the financial impact that training, supporting, managing and co-ordinating volunteers will have. So while valuable, volunteering alone may not be a free and simple solution to the financial pressures facing the sector.

Implementing change successfully takes time, and failure to invest enough time in managing change will hit your bottom line. For some entities needing to adapt significantly in response to the current financial pressures, there may be insufficient time to address their financial needs.

The Transition Fund announced in the CSR may offer some respite here – but only if administered well.

Technology and outsourcing are increasingly held up as a route to efficiency and savings. However, how often do organisations realistically assess the time involved in introducing and embedding new technologies? Or think about the time it takes to ensure that the outsourced service delivers what the organisation needs and doesn’t just suck away time.

Responding to consultations. The Office for Civil Society has recently released a number of consultations – it is not alone – one could claim we are in danger of consultation fatigue! Significant requests are being made of the sector to input into the future direction of the development of Big Society, and rightly so. But while we absolutely must have the opportunity to input our views, the impact of the time required to make meaningful contributions should not be overlooked.

One example on this last point is the recent Compact consultation, undertaken by Compact Voice. Alongside the draft, the government was to announce what transparency and accountability measures were to be put in place to ensure Compact implementation by government departments. Bearing in mind a key justification for the renewal of the Compact was improved accountability, it is perhaps surprising that when negotiations were supposed to commence on Monday (1 November) between OCS and Compact Voice, it was reported that the OCS had not yet prepared these measures – something one would have thought to be essential to the negotiation process. Considering commissioning will play such a big part in the future of the sector, the lack of time available to make progress, meaningfully, in this area may just end up costing the sector more than it anticipated.

So if you are to take one thought from this blog, it should be that time = money – make sure that in worrying about the money you don’t inadvertently find yourself running out of time too.

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Theresa May 1