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Introducing the voluntary sector
Introducing the voluntary sector

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2 What do volunteers do?

Men and women volunteers working in a garden
Figure 2 Garden volunteers at work

You’ll now explore what types of role and activity volunteers take on, as well as which ‘industries’ (arts, leisure, health and social care and so on) have the most volunteers.

As you might expect, formal voluntary work is diverse: in terms of skills, it can range from simple, repetitive jobs to highly skilled tasks requiring decision making. In other words, formal voluntary work is very similar to paid work, with the same variety of jobs and subject to the same ‘hierarchies’ between skilled and unskilled workers (Musick and Wilson, 2008).

In England, the top activities are:

  • fundraising
  • handling money
  • organising or helping at events
  • leading or managing a group
  • giving advice
  • information and counselling
  • other practical help.
(Cabinet Office, 2013; NCVO, 2014)

In Scotland, ‘generally helping out’ is the main volunteer activity, followed by raising money, organising events and ‘doing whatever is required’ (Scottish Government, 2013).

In Northern Ireland, a survey of a sample of households found that fundraising and events are the most popular, together with volunteering for church or other religious organisations (Department for Social Development, 2015). In Wales, the various surveys illustrate the difficulty of pinning down exact activities and many volunteers will fulfil several roles within the same organisation.

Some types of organisation attract more volunteers than others: in England, sports organisations have the most volunteers (55% of volunteers) and in Scotland, health, disability and social welfare groups have the most (22%).

The next activity will help you get a sense of the variety of roles and activities volunteers can take on – and, if you are looking for one, you may even find a volunteering role you would like to apply for!

Activity 2 Focus on volunteer roles

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Do-it is a UK-wide organisation that promotes volunteering and advertises volunteering vacancies. Go to their website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and search for opportunities in your home town. Note how many vacancies come up and look through the variety of roles as well as the types of organisation (i.e. health and social care, a museum, a conservation charity, and so on). You won’t be able to examine all of them so just scroll through and get a sense of what’s available.

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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


A search on ‘Glasgow’ (August 2015) showed 263 opportunities and a diverse range of roles that included:

  • fundraising
  • massage therapist
  • family support
  • outdoor event helpers
  • health and social support
  • advocacy roles
  • mentoring
  • tutoring
  • charity shop helper.

The roles ranged across one-off events, regular volunteering and even some full-time roles. The types of organisation included animal charities, children’s play schemes, health care and medical charities. Health and social care provided the most opportunities for volunteering.

Of course, Do-it is advertising actual volunteering vacancies – some organisations may not need to advertise as they have a steady stream of applicants. Some big city museums, for example, may never need to advertise because they are extremely popular with retired people, as well as with younger people looking for experience in order to boost their CVs for paid work.

Many organisations usually have a section of their website dedicated to volunteering, giving information on the types of roles available and the commitment level they would like. Local ‘umbrella bodies’ also advertise opportunities – for example, Volunteering Wales.