16th May 2007

Keyworth Centre, London South Bank University, London , United Kingdom

Conference report by Alex Murdoch and Veronique Jochum

The VSSN Day Conference on 16 May 2007 was hosted by London South Bank University at the Keyworth Centre. Alex Murdock (Head of the Centre for Government and Charity Management) welcomed participants and chaired the morning session.

The first paper was given by Sylke Schnepf from Southampton University who presented early findings from her research looking at the profile of people who donate to charities involved in overseas development (including gender, education and income). The discussion which followed Sylke’s presentations highlighted how difficult it was to understand people’s motivations for giving to particular causes. Her final report is due out in July.

The next paper was presented by Mike Aiken from the Open University and IVAR. Mike’s paper was an exploratory paper examining the implications of local voluntary organisations delivering contracts to agencies from either the third sector or the private sector. Mike examined more specifically the potential challenges of sector hybridisation. This raised interesting comments from the audience around the notions of distinctiveness and added value.

Before lunch, the VSSN Special General Meeting took place, led by the chair of VSSN, Peter Halfpenny. Peter began by introducing VSSN’s executive officer, Matthew McClelland who recently started in this new post. This was followed by an update from the Membership Secretary, Gareth Morgan, who informed us that the new version of the VSSN Members Directory was now available to members. The three proposed amendments to VSSN’s Constitution (i.e. institutional membership, voting system and deletion of material which is now ‘spent’) were voted by the members present. Following a brief update from participants regarding forthcoming publications, lunch was served.

The afternoon session was chaired by Mike Locke from the Institute of Volunteering Research. This session started with a paper by André Esteves Oliveira from the University of Sheffield. Andre’s paper looked at training programs for volunteers in Portuguese sports organisations and reflected upon the increasing professionalisation of volunteer sports administrators. His presentation provided the opportunity to talk more generally about volunteer attitudes towards training.

The next paper on volunteering in nature conservation was presented by Nick Ockenden from the Institute for Volunteering Research. Nick’s paper commented upon the expert-lay divide which continues to influence volunteering in this field, despite a growing number of conservation organisations having a more community-based approach. The discussion following Nick’s presentation outlined the need to further explore how lay knowledge can contribute to scientific and social outcomes.

The final paper of the day was given by Ingo Bode from the University of Edinburgh. Ingo’s paper looked at how the German conceptualisation of civil society differs from the one prevalent in Anglo-Saxon countries, which is based on the assumption that civil society, the state and the market are separate. The emphasis in the German tradition is more on linkages and interconnections, and this understanding of civil society, Ingo argued, could address some of the limitations of the Anglo-Saxon tradition. His presentation led to a stimulating debate, which was particularly relevant to earlier discussions on the blurring of boundaries between sectors following Mike Aiken’s paper.