On Tuesday I was in London in the splendid surroundings of The Museum of The Order of St John to take part in a meeting of the Volunteering Network. The museum building, a few minutes’ walk from Farringdon station, dates from 1504, and houses a fascinating exhibition about The Order of St John and some very impressive works of art (the latest addition is Caravaggio’s ‘The Cardsharps’ – worth a visit to the museum on its own). We were the guests of St John Ambulance for a meeting to look at ‘Normalising Volunteering: improving the public image’. One of the speakers, Helen Timbrell from the National Trust, suggested that to many people volunteering seems a bit dull, a bit worthy. Volunteering is something other people do. Helen had sought some professional marketing advice for the National Trust’s volunteering programme and had been told that the problem is not image or brand – it’s the product that is wrong. What we offer and how we organise it is the problem – not the image. Helen wondered whether having a brand for ‘volunteering’ would be like having a brand for ‘working’ or ‘shopping’. On the other hand, she suggested that the development of the image of ‘recycling’ which has taken us to a point where recycling is now completely normal and it is almost unacceptable not to do it – might provide a model for volunteering. It was an interesting day of discussions about the image of volunteering, the politicisation of volunteering and the real experiences of volunteers and potential volunteers.
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